The British government said Wednesday it is charging two men belonging to the Russian military intelligence service with the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the town of Salisbury in March using the military-grade nerve agent Novichok.
Scotland Yard says it has sufficient evidence to charge Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov with conspiracy to murder.
Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu said it's likely the suspects, who are believed to be around 40 years old, were traveling under aliases and Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.
However, in a statement to parliament on Tuesday afternoon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said that based on a body of intelligence, the government is willing to state the men are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU. "This was not a rogue operation" May said, adding that it was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at the highest level of the Russian state.
May added that Russian authorities have responded to the "sickening and despicable act" with lies and the Kremlin's attempts to hide the truth reinforces their culpability.
"We must step up our efforts against the GRU," May added. "We will deploy the full range of tools from our national security apparatus in order to counter the threat from the GRU."
Police said the two suspects arrived in the U.K. at Gatwick airport on March 2. They traveled to Salisbury on March 4 where they contaminated Skripal’s front door with the Novichok, and left from Heathrow Airport on March 5 on an Aeroflot flight. During their time in the U.K., they stayed in a hotel in Bow in East London, with police finding traces of Novichok in their room.
The police also revealed that the poison was brought into the U.K. in a bottle of Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume. The bottle was designed as a specially made poison applicator.
The bottle was discarded and later found in a charity shop bin by Charlie Rowley, who brought it home for his partner Dawn Sturgess. After applying the poison, Sturgess subsequently died. “We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of,” Basu said.
The Crown Prosecution Service announced it will not be applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as the Russian constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals. A European arrest warrant has been obtained.
The police have also released images of the two men to try and help reveal their real identities:
The former Russian spy and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with Novichok during the weekend of March 4. The highly toxic chemical agent is known to be developed by Russia. The pair both survived the attack and are currently believed to be in protective custody in the U.K.
The British government has strongly criticized the Kremlin for its role in the attack. The U.S. and other Western powers have thrown their support behind London by joining in a collective expulsion of Russian diplomats.
Moscow, which has always denied it carried out any attack, expelled Western diplomats in response. On Tuesday, one official said: "Names and photos tell us nothing. We ask Britain to end public accusations and manipulation of information, start cooperating with Russian law enforcement."
Cover image: Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov are seen on CCTV at Salisbury Station on March 3, 2018 in an image handed out by the Metropolitan Police in London, Britain September 5, 2018. (Reuters)