Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected British allegations that the Russians suspected of carrying out a nerve-agent attack on a former spy in the UK are intelligence agents and called on them to go public, taking a defiant tone in his first official comments on the charges.
“We know who they are. We found them,” Putin told an an economic forum in Vladivostok. “There’s nothing unusual or criminal there, I assure you. We’ll see soon enough,” he said. “They are civilians, of course,” he added. “I would like to appeal to them, so they’ll hear it today. Let them come forward to speak to any media,” Putin said.
The UK last week identified two men it said were Russian military-intelligence officers who carried out the attack on Sergei Skripal, a former spy, and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury in March. British officials said the suspects had escaped to Russia and that the operation likely was authorised at the highest levels in Moscow, a conclusion that was backed by the US and other allies.
British authorities said the agents were using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and had been caught on surveillance cameras in London and Salisbury before and after applying the nerve agent to the doorknob of Skripal’s home.
Russia has denied any role in the poisonings.
The Skripal attack deepened the chill in relations between Moscow and the West, with the UK and its allies expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in retaliation and the US also imposing sanctions on Russia over the case.
Putin’s stance on Wednesday echoed the Kremlin’s approach to the last case where his spies were accused of killing former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 with radioactive polonium. British authorities blamed a Russian agent, Andrei Lugovoi, for the murder. Moscow refused to extradite Lugovoi, who rejected the allegations. He went on to become a member of parliament and regular fixture on state television. In 2017, the US imposed sanctions on him for his role in the case.