MOSCOW: Two men accused by London of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal told Russian media on Thursday they visited the British city of Salisbury for tourist purposes and denied having anything to do with the murder attempt.
The men, who bore a strong resemblance to the pictures of the suspects released by Britain, made the claim in an interview with the head of the Kremlin-backed RT news network.
British security services had named the men as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, but believed they were aliases. In the interview the two suspects said these were their real names.
The men – who seem to be around 40 years old – confirmed they arrived in Britain on March 2 and said they travelled to Salisbury the next day to see the sights but did not stay long because of the poor weather.
“We went there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, but we couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere,” Petrov said, referring to local landmarks.
They denied trying to kill Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury on March 4, in an attack London believes was sanctioned by the Kremlin.
British investigators say the poison was transported in a fake perfume bottle.
“Is it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?,” RT quoted Boshirov as saying in remarks translated into English.
“The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it.”
The pair, who the UK suspect of being members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency, complained their lives had been “turned upside down” and RT said they sounded distressed during the interview.
“We’re afraid of going out, we fear for ourselves, our lives and lives of our loved ones,” Boshirov said.
They also confirmed that they had travelled to Europe before.
RT editor Margarita Simonyan said the men contacted her themselves by calling her mobile number. She said the interview was recorded on Wednesday evening.
The Kremlin-backed station aired the interview a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia had identified the men sought by Britain and urged them to address the media.
“They are civilians, of course,” Putin said, adding there was nothing criminal about them.
The Skripals survived being poisoned but a local man, Charlie Rowley, picked up a fake perfume bottle containing Novichok weeks later, British investigators have said.
Rowley gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who later died.