It’s been a rough couple of days for Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.
Last Wednesday, the suspected Russian hit-men were accused by British police of the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March this year, as well as grievous bodily harm against a police officer who first responded to the scene. Police claim the two used the deadly nerve agent Novichok to carry out the deed.
Now however, Petrov and Boshirov have appeared on Russian state TV to clarify that the whole thing was just a mix-up, and they were simply tourists visiting the “wonderful” city of Salisbury to see its cathedral.
“There’s the famous Salisbury Cathedral, famous not just in Europe, but in the whole world,” Boshirov told RT (Russia Today). “It’s famous for its 123-metre spire, it’s famous for its clock, the first one [of its kind] ever created in the world, which is still working.”
He added that the pair may have walked by Skripal’s house, but didn’t know where it was located.
They liked it so much they visited it twice in two days for a few hours each time, taking a 90 minute train journey to get there, wandered around residential streets no where near the cathedral, spending £40-80 each on return tickets each time. https://t.co/hs1B20WKcX
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) September 13, 2018
The pair, who said they work in “sports nutrition,” confirmed information previously released by British police, stating they had visited Salisbury on March 3 and 4. Petrov claimed they had tried to see Stonehenge on the 3rd but couldn’t because “there was muddy slush everywhere.”
“The British are making a lot of allegations,” Boshirov said. “It’s just life, to live together is more fun and simpler, it’s normal for any normal person.”
The British government have maintained that Petrov and Boshirov are part of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence branch. Wednesday, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed at an economic forum in Vladivostock that the pair were civilians and that “there is nothing criminal here.” He did not address the fact the fact that British police had found traces of Novichok in their east London hotel room, and CCTV showing them walking in the opposite direction from the cathedral towards Skripal’s house, the day of the poisoning.
British officials have dismissed the men’s alibis as absurd and said their intelligence about the pair is accurate. Other security experts have said the interview shows a brazenness on the part of the Kremlin. “Their lips move, words come out,” NBC security analyst Duncan Gardham said. “But it is the action of putting these men forward that sends the message that Putin is proud of what they did.”
In the interview, Boshirov and Petrov also denied they had a fake bottle of Nina Ricci perfume, which investigators say was used to transport the Novichok.
“Is it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?” Boshirov said. “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.”