International

Skripal suspects are not criminals: Vladimir Putin

London, Sep 12 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 9/12/2018 11:31:21 AM IST

The two suspects in the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are civilians, not criminals, Russian President Vladimir Putin says.

The UK government named them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, and said they were from Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

Mr Putin said his government had found the pair and he hoped they would appear soon and tell their story.

Mr Skripal and Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, in the UK, in March.

“We know who they are, we have found them,” Mr Putin said in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.

“I hope they will turn up themselves and tell everything. This would be best for everyone.

“There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We’ll see in the near future,” he added.

BBC Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford called Mr Putin’s words a “tantalising hint” that the two men will speak “very soon”.

“But the question of course is who will we see because don’t forget that, in the UK, the suspicion is that the two names that were given are in fact aliases,” our correspondent added.

Russian state TV says one of the suspects, Mr Petrov, told the channel he might comment publicly on the case next week.

Within minutes, Putin’s remarks became top news on Russian TV, which called them “simply sensational”.

On state TV’s Channel One, a talk show speculated whether Theresa May would resign upon seeing that Petrov and Boshirov are not Russian hitmen after all, or whether the British government would come up with more “lies” to denigrate Russia.

Rossiya 1, another government-run TV channel, showed a beaming commentator saying he was “full of admiration for how Vladimir Putin is doing it”, as the studio erupted in applause.

But the Kremlin’s media machine suggested the most exciting news is yet to come - when the two suspects appear on TV in person and deal the final blow to accusations of Russia’s involvement in the poisoning.

Scotland Yard and the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service have said there is enough evidence to charge the men, who are understood to have travelled to London from Moscow on March 2 on Russian passports.

Two days later, police say they sprayed the nerve agent, Novichok, on the front door of Mr Skripal’s home in the Wiltshire city of Salisbury, before travelling home to Russia later that day.

UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid has warned the men, thought to be aged about 40, will be caught and prosecuted if they ever step out of Russia.

The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not extradite its own nationals.

But a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained in case they travel to the EU.

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