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.
Wow, the weather in Salisbury on March 3 looks just awful, no way a Russian person could have made it to the 123-meter cathedral in those conditions https://t.co/s0e82u8qRS
— max seddon (@maxseddon) September 13, 2018
Amazing. Two Russian men claim they went to Salisbury as tourists but were frustrated by all the snow on the ground, so they immediately went home…to Moscow. In March. Where it was covered in snow.
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) September 13, 2018
In 25 minutes, RT didn't manage to ask Boshirov and Petrov why traces of Novichok were found in their hotel room, why there's no evidence of their backstory & why they went toward Skripal's house on the day of the poisoning, rather than the Cathedral they'd supposedly come to see pic.twitter.com/vnrEcIumJw
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) September 13, 2018
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.
we need a contact of the best toxicologist, like the best in profession. we need a consultation ASAP.
It's about Peter who was poisoned.
— ????? ???? (@pussyrrriot) September 13, 2018