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UK charges two Russians over Salisbury poisoning of Skripals

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British prosecutors announced they had collected sufficient evidence to charge two Russians with the attempted murder of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, reported Deutsche Welle (Germany).

Authorities issued a European arrest warrant for the two men, named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and both aged around 40. Photographs of the two men were also released as part of an appeal for any witnesses to come forward.

However, Sue Hemming, director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service, said prosecutors would not be applying to Russia for extradition since "the Russian Constitution does not permit extradition of its own nationals." The two men can still be arrested in the unlikely event that they travel to another European country.

Speaking in Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May said intelligence experts concluded that the two men charged were officers of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU.

May said that the attack "was not a rogue operation" and that it was almost certainly approved at a "senior level of the Russian state."

"I suspect that they wanted to give a message to those Russians who were living elsewhere who had been involved in matters relating to the Russian state," May said.

How the poisoning unfolded
Assistant police commissioner Neil Basu said the two suspects had traveled from Moscow to London under aliases on March 2, 2018, two days before the Skripals were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury. They returned to Russia from Heathrow Airport just hours after the poisoning.

According to authorities, the Novichok was smuggled into the UK in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle. The perpetrators then smeared the nerve agent on the door handle of Sergei Skripal's Salisbury home, according to investigators.

Investigators had also found traces of Novichok in the London hotel room where Petrov and Boshirov stayed, according to Basu.

Russian state suspected
Speaking ahead of May's statement, Basu did not disclose whether police believed the suspects worked for Russia's intelligence services, saying that "this was a sophisticated attack across borders." The Kremlin has denied it played any role in the poisoning. On Wednesday, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names of the men and their photos "say nothing to us."

The poisoning sparked a diplomatic row and tit-for-tat expulsion of embassy staff between Britain and its allies and Russia.

No charge yet for other poisonings
While Sergei and Yulia Skripal ultimately recovered from being exposed to the Novichok, a British couple fell ill from the same nerve agent around three months later in the nearby town of Amesbury.

One of them, Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, died a week after being poisoned on July 8. Her partner Charlie Rowley was discharged from hospital but was later forced to return to receive treatment for meningitis and loss of eyesight.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the names and photos of alleged Russians suspected of poisoning Sergey and Yulia Skripal released by the UK does not mean anything to Moscow as of now.
The Foreign Ministry reacted to the news, saying the UK’s accusations over alleged involvement in the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents were groundless, reported Russia Today.

“Names as well as photos [of the suspects] published in the media don’t mean anything to us,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the ministry, said later in the day. She said Moscow is calling on London “to abandon making public accusations and media manipulations” and opt instead for “practical cooperation between law enforcement agencies.”

The Kremlin also dismissed London’s claims by saying that the data the British authorities presented are “incomprehensible.” “We have just heard or seen two names but these names mean nothing to me personally,” the Russian president’s aide, Yury Ushakov, said.

He further added that the UK police themselves admitted that “these names were apparently aliases.” “I don’t understand why this was done and what sort of signal the British side is sending. It is difficult to understand,” Ushakov said.

Moscow’s response came after UK prosecutors named two “Russian nationals” they said were involved in poisoning the Skripals. The two men, identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were charged in absentia with the attempted murder of the ex-double agent and his daughter, along with a police officer.

British police claimed the suspects entered the UK on valid Russian passports and had arrived in the country days before the incident. The men were traveling under aliases but were around 40-years-old, according to Neil Basu, the head of Counter Terrorism policing.

Sue Hemming, director of Legal Services at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also said UK authorities have issued national and European arrest warrants for the two suspects. She noted British law enforcement agencies would not seek their extradition from Russia as its constitution forbids transfer of its own nationals to authorities in other jurisdictions.

The story comes on the back of a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which stated that the chemical agent which poisoned a couple in Amesbury in June was identical to the one used to poison the Skripals in March. The report, however, did not mention the name ‘Novichok’ and did not refer to Russia.

The British announcement ignited reactions on social media, with users jokingly comparing the looks of the suspects to characters featured in Red Heat, a 1988 American action film directed by Walter Hill.

Meanwhile, Russian diplomats said the British accusations make little sense in light of the OPCW report. Alexander Shulgin, Moscow’s envoy to the international body, said earlier in the day that the UK failed to cooperate with Russia under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

“If a member state has a question for another member state, as the UK does for Russia in the Skripal and Amesbury cases, there’s a consultation procedure for this,” he said, adding, “if the British don’t want to reach us, then there is technical secretariat and other OPCW divisions.”

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in Salisbury in March. The poisoning sparked a diplomatic row between the UK and Russia, with the British government accusing Moscow of being behind the attack.

Russia has consistently denied any involvement in the incident and offered to assist in the investigation, but so far this offer has not been taken up by the UK authorities.

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