British authorities have charged two Russian military intelligence officers in the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England last March.
Police said the two men were travelling on authentic Russian passports under the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and arrived in the UK on an Aeroflot flight days before the attack. The Crown Prosecution Service said there was enough evidence to charge them.
The prime minister, Theresa May, told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the two men had been identified as officers from Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
The CPS said it had charged the two men with conspiracy to murder the Skripals and DS Nick Bailey, who fell ill after going to the Skripal home after the Russian pair were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury.
The two Russian suspects are also charged with the use and possession of novichok, contrary to the Chemical Weapons Act. They are also charged with causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and DS Bailey.
They have not been charged with the later poisoning that killed Dawn Sturgess and left Charlie Rowley seriously ill, after they became unwell on 30 June at an address in Amesbury, Wiltshire.
However, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has concluded the novichok that killed Sturgess and poisoned Rowley was the same as that used on the Skripals.
"The toxic chemical compound displays the same toxic properties of a nerve agent.
"It is also the same toxic chemical that was found in the biomedical and environmental samples relating to the poisoning of Mr Sergei Skripal, Ms Yulia Skripal, and Mr Nicholas Bailey on 4 March 2018 in Salisbury."
British scientists had already come to the conclusion the chemical Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley came into contact with was novichok, but the announcement independently confirms their conclusions.
Ms Sturgess, 44, and 45-year-old Mr Rowley were taken ill on 30 June after he gave her a perfume bottle which is thought to have contained the nerve agent.
Rowley currently is hospitalized with meningitis, struggling with the after-effects of being poisoned.
The Daily Beast details how the two GRU officers, Petrov and Boshirov, transported novichok into Britain.
Russia’s would-be assassins came bearing a tiny, pink cardboard box.
Nestled inside was a slender three-inch bottle marked Nina Ricci, Premier Jour. Instead of the trademark Parisian perfume, this glass container was filled with one of the world’s rarest and most deadly nerve agents.
Britain announced Wednesday that the poison came direct from Moscow, smuggled through customs in the specially modified perfume bottle. It was not a genuine Nina Ricci bottle, box, or nozzle, but together Russian operatives believed they would form the perfect delivery vehicle for the first deployment of the Novichok nerve agent on Western soil.
Two suspected agents from Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate—known as the GRU—arrived with the planned murder weapon at Gatwick Airport on the outskirts of London on Friday, March 2. They had traveled on Aeroflot Flight 2588 using Russian-issued passports in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, although those are believed to be aliases. The GRU employed Skripal before he was recruited by MI6 and betrayed the agency by spying for the West.
Scotland Yard released a host of images showing the men as they used trains and the London Tube during their three-day mission in England. Neil Basu, Britain’s head of counterterror policing, asked for help from tipsters all over the world to help reveal the men’s true identities.
Petrov and Boshirov have been charged in absentia for the plot, although Britain has not formally requested the men be extradited from Russia, knowing that no such assistance would be provided. A European arrest warrant and Interpol Red Notice have been issued.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, professed shock at the charges. “The names and photographs published in the media mean nothing to us,” she said.
[T]he agents left traces of Novichok in their modest hotel room in London’s East End. They also bungled the disposal of the murder weapon so badly that the bottle was later found in Salisbury by a couple who tragically believed it to be perfume.
On Sunday, March 4, the Russians going by Petrov and Boshirov were captured on CCTV cameras near the home of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury ...
Petrov or Boshirov is believed to have sprayed Novichok onto the door handle of Skripal’s house. They may not have known that his daughter, Yulia, was visiting from Russia at the time ...
This was the Russians’ second trip to Salisbury that weekend. They caught the train from London’s Waterloo station to the cathedral city on the Saturday and spent a couple of hours on a short reconnaissance operation before returning on the 4.10pm train to London.
The following day, they set off intending to kill their former GRU colleague. They left the City Stay Hotel at around 8 a.m., walking to Bow Tube station and then on to Salisbury via Waterloo once again.
After completing the operation in Salisbury, they were back in London by late afternoon and left on a flight to Moscow at 10:30 p.m. that night.
The Skripals had already been found slumped on a bench in central Salisbury when Petrov and Boshirov’s train got into Waterloo, but the hitmen were safely back in Moscow by the time Scotland Yard’s counterterror police discovered that there had been a chemical-weapons attack on British streets.
Salisbury poisonings: police name two Russian suspects (The Guardian)