Gareth Davies in Moscow
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‘Putin in the frame’ – UK brushes off poison storyIndependent.ieUK Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Moscow of “insulting the public’s intelligence” after the two Russian agents accused of the Salisbury poisonings claimed they were merely tourists.https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/britain/putin-in-the-frame-uk-brushes-off-poison-story-37315350.htmlhttps://www.independent.ie/world-news/article37315349.ece/023ac/AUTOCROP/h342/2018-09-14_wor_44081219_I1.JPG
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Moscow of “insulting the public’s intelligence” after the two Russian agents accused of the Salisbury poisonings claimed they were merely tourists.
In an extraordinary interview with state-funded news channel RT, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov said they made a weekend visit to Britain to see Salisbury cathedral and were victims of a “fantastical coincidence”.
The two men broke cover a day after Vladimir Putin insisted they were “civilians” and urged them to tell their story, a move that one senior government source said put the Russian president “directly in the frame”. D
Downing Street dismissed their account as “lies and blatant fabrications” which would be “deeply offensive” to the victims of the chemical weapons attack on Salisbury and their families.
Mrs May’s spokesman also accused Russia of responding “with contempt” to the murder of Dawn Sturgess and the attempted murders of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, his daughter Yulia and of Ms Sturgess’s partner Charlie Rowley.
“Sadly, it is what we have come to expect” from Russia, the spokesman said.
Ms Sturgess died after handling a perfume bottle containing the toxic poison Novichok that had been discarded in a park near Salisbury railway station.
Arrest warrants have been issued for Mr Petrov and Mr Boshirov, who are accused of murder and attempted murder after being identified by detectives as agents of the Russian military intelligence agency the GRU.
The would-be assassins claimed that their sole reason for visiting the UK was to see the historic sites of “wonderful” Salisbury, on the recommendation of a friend. Such was their enthusiasm that they took a four-hour flight from Moscow to embark on their two-day break, arriving at Gatwick at 3pm on Friday March 2.
They travelled to Salisbury the following morning but claimed that the snow and adverse weather conditions were so dramatic that they were “wet to the knees” and forced to abort their tour.
They returned the following day and were captured on CCTV in the vicinity of Mr Skripal’s home, which is in a cul-de-sac in a residential area outside the city centre, shortly before midday.
The men insisted that despite further snowfall, which Met Office forecasts suggest did not take place, they found the time to go to the cathedral and the less well-known Old Sarum historical site before leaving after lunch.
“The cathedral is very beautiful, there are lots of tourists there, there are lots of Russian tourists,” Mr Boshirov said. “We were sitting in the park, we were sitting in a cafè and drinking coffee. We were walking around and enjoying this English Gothic, this beauty.”
Mr Petrov said it started to snow again at around lunchtime, and that is why they left “early”.
The pair travelled back to London and got the Tube to Heathrow, leaving for Moscow early that evening.
They also told RT that the snow and “muddy slush” meant they cut short their planned visit to Stonehenge, and that they were only in Salisbury for less than an hour because of train delays.
Both men claimed to be afraid of going out, fearing for themselves and their loved ones.
They said they frequently travelled to Europe for a business they supposedly had related to sports nutrition.
“We’d like it if one day the real perpetrators were found and gave us an apology,” Mr Petrov said.
“We can’t go outside, we can’t go to the petrol station,” Mr Boshirov said.
A senior government source said the account of the visit was “nuts” and was “straight from the pages of Wikipedia”. They said “the mind boggled” at the idea that Old Sarum was one of their chosen destinations, a place that many Wiltshire residents had not heard of.
“If there was any suggestion that Putin did not know about this exercise, this interview puts him at the heart of the picture,” they said. “It may well be a tightening of the noose around their necks for failing to complete the job.”
Andrew Wood, the former British ambassador to Russia said: “Moscow is demonstrating utter contempt for Britain and the west by putting these two up. But there may also be an element of punishment for not doing a better job. They looked pretty uneasy.”
Asked about the case on Wednesday at the eastern economic forum in Vladivostok, Mr Putin tried to shift the blame away from the Russian state, insisting that the two men were “civilians”. He said: “There’s nothing especially criminal there, I assure you.” (© Daily Telegraph London)