Russians Wanted for Nerve Agent Attack in U.K. Say They Were Tourists, Not Hit Men

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov told state TV that they had traveled to the English provincial city of Salisbury in March merely to visit its cathedral.

Photo: Russia Today

Just as Vladimir Putin predicted they would, two Russian men wanted in Britain for poisoning a former Russian spy with a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union appeared on Russian television on Thursday to profess their innocence.

The men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, told the Kremlin-financed network Russia Today that they had traveled from Moscow to the English provincial city of Salisbury in March to visit its ancient cathedral, not to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a former double agent who sold secrets to Britain.

“Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,” Petrov said in an interview with Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia Today, the state news network known as RT.

When Simonyan seemed to express some surprise at this characterization of an English city that is not well-known abroad, Boshirov answered simply “Yes.”

“There’s the famous Salisbury Cathedral, famous not only in Europe but in the whole world,” he added moments later. “It’s famous for its 123 meter spire, it’s famous for its clock, one of the first ever created in the world that’s still working.” Those details are not common knowledge for most Britons, but they are available on the Wikipedia page of the cathedral.

The men also denied that they are, as British Prime Minister Theresa May asserted last week, agents of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service Skripal had betrayed. They were, they insisted, involved in the import of supplements and other items of interest to sports nutritionists.

The men also denied that they had smuggled the Novichok nerve agent used to poison Skripal, and four other people, into Britain disguised as perfume. “Isn’t it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?” Boshirov said. He went on to claim that if they had such an item in their luggage, it would have been difficult to get past airport customs agents without arousing suspicion.

The two men’s story, particularly their claim that they cut their visit short because of cold weather, and a light dusting of snow, was widely mocked by foreign correspondents and skeptics in Moscow.

As reaction to the interview unfolded online, the anti-Kremlin activists Pussy Riot appealed for help after one of their members, Pyotr Verzilov, was reportedly poisoned with a neurotransmitter-blocking medicine this week, leaving him in critical condition in the toxicology wing of the Bakhrushin City Clinical Hospital in Moscow.

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