London: Britain on Wednesday charged two Russians with the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter, describing the suspects as military intelligence officers almost certainly acting on behalf of the Russian state.
British police revealed images of the two men they said had flown to Britain for a weekend in March to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.
Skripal’s daughter Yulia and a police officer who attended the scene also fell ill in the case, which has caused the biggest East-West diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War.
A woman later died from Novichok poisoning after her partner brought home a contaminated bottle of counterfeit perfume.
Prime Minister Theresa May lay the blame clearly with the Russian state, describing the suspects as officers in Russia’s GRU military intelligence.
“The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state,” May told parliament.
Skripal, a former GRU officer who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, was found unconscious with Yulia on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
British authorities identified the suspects as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Police released CCTV images of them, describing a three-day mission that took them from Moscow to London to Salisbury, where they sprayed poison on Skripal’s door before flying straight back to Moscow hours later.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the names given by Britain did not mean anything to Moscow, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.
Britain and dozens of other countries have kicked out scores of Russian diplomats over the incident, and Moscow has responded tit-for-tat with an identical number of expulsions.
The affair has worsened Russian relations with the West, which were already under strain over Ukraine, Syria and other issues.