Russia asks Britain for help in identifying Novichok suspects

Britain announced charges this week against two men thought to be GRU officers

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.  Theresa May said the men flew into Britain in March to try and murder Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who sold secrets to MI6. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Theresa May said the men flew into Britain in March to try and murder Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who sold secrets to MI6. Photograph: Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

 

Moscow has claimed it wants to ascertain as soon as possible the identities of the two men named by Britain as suspects in the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, and asked London to help.

“We need to establish who these people are, if these are [Russian] citizens or not,” said Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday. “We want to do this with maximum haste and effectiveness, and so we are again appealing to Britain for help in ascertaining the identities of these people.”

Britain announced charges in absentia on Wednesday against two men believed to be officers with Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the GRU. Theresa May said the men flew into Britain in March to try and murder Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who sold secrets to MI6, and accused the Russian government of orchestrating the operation.

Scotland Yard said the alleged secret agents travelled to Britain under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, which were probably aliases. The Kremlin has described the allegations as unacceptable and denies that any Russian officials were involved.

Ms Zakharova also accused Ms May of a “frank lie” over her claims that Russia had not offered Britain information after the nerve agent attack, and suggested that Ms May had “selective access” to Russian media reports.

Formal request

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, said on Thursday that Russia would not investigate the two suspects because it had not received a formal request for legal assistance from Britain.

Ms Zakharova’s comments came as a purported ex-GRU officer claimed the attempted murder was too amateurish to have been the work of professional secret service agents.

If GRU agents had wanted to target Ms Skripal, they would have done it “quietly, without fuss, and brought him [to Russia] in a mail bag, and no one would have known where he had gone,” Ivan Tarasov told Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Mr Tarasov also claimed the Skripals could have been targeted by a Russian crime gang, possibly over unpaid debts, and mocked reports that the suspects stayed in the same room in a cheap hotel near Salisbury. “That’s how bandits act, not professional secret service officers. GRU officers don’t stay in London hotels,” he said.

Meanwhile, a decontamination process got under way on Friday in the house in Salisbury where the attack took place.

Poisoned

Over the coming days, weeks and possibly months, military and civilian specialists, some in protective suits, will work at the house where the Skripals were poisoned with military-grade Novichok.

Neighbours have been given the opportunity by Wiltshire council to move out while the house is decontaminated but have decided to stay put. The council has also consulted the Skripals over the clean-up.

The work, which is taking place six months after the attack, is being planned and overseen by the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) in partnership with the council.

Military teams are expected to be supported by specialist contractors who have the expertise to remove any traces of contamination. – Guardian