Two Russians accused by the U.K. of attempting to kill former spy Sergei Skripal claimed Thursday they were only in Salisbury to see its cathedral, but left because there was too much snow and returned directly to Moscow — which was also covered in snow.
The suspects, named by British police as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, appeared on the state-run Russia Today channel a day after being urged to speak to the media by President Vladimir Putin, who described them as “civilians.”
British authorities claim the men used aliases and are members of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. But in the interview the suspects claimed their names are real, and that there are businessmen involved in the sports nutrition industry.
They said their lives had been “turned upside down” as a result of being named as suspects in the poisonings and implicated in the murder of Dawn Sturgess. “We’re afraid of going out, we fear for ourselves, our lives and lives of our loved ones,” Boshirov said.
The Metropolitan Police say the men smuggled the toxic nerve agent Novichok into the U.K. in March using a modified perfume bottle, poisoning Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The pair told RT that they were just tourists in the town who wanted to visit the famous cathedral as well as an ancient clock, Stonehenge and Old Sarum.
However, they cut their visit short due to bad weather.
“We couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere,” Petrov said. “The town was covered by this slush. We got wet, took the nearest train and came back [to London].”
The next day, March 4, they returned to Moscow where the temperature hit lows of -23 degrees Fahrenheit.
The suspects admitted they could have passed by the home of Skripal, where Novichok was sprayed on the front door. “Maybe we did [approach] Skripal’s house, but we don’t know where is it located,” Boshirov said.
However, as one Twitter user pointed out, the road Skripal lives on is in the opposite direction from the tourist attractions they said they wanted to visit.
Although easily dismissed as just another example of Russia trolling the West, one expert believes it could be an act of desperation, aimed at defending a position which is increasingly indefensible.
“The RT interview looks like it was designed to make the men look like victims, that’s an extension of the Kremlin’s overall narrative, which has been to accuse the U.K. of Russophobia, hysteria and provocation,” Ben Nimmo, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told VICE News. “The problem is that it’s incompetent, both in the softball questions, and the answers.”
The interview was conducted by RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who in the past has compared her outlet to “a defense ministry.”
Cover image: Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, are seen on CCTV on Fisherton Road in Salisbury on March 4, 2018. (Metroplitan Police handout)