Russians accused in poisoning of ex-spy in UK claim they are just tourists

World Today

In this video grab provided by the RT channel , Ruslan Boshirov, left, and Alexander Petrov attend their first public appearance in an interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. The two Russian men charged in Britain with poisoning a former Russian spy with a deadly nerve agent appeared on Russian television on Thursday, saying they visited the suspected crime scene as tourists. (RT channel video via AP)

British authorities aren’t buying the story put forward by two Russians accused of carrying out a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England.

The men appeared on state-funded television, admitting that they were in Salisbury at the time of the attack.

But they claim they went as tourists. CGTN’s Lucy Taylor reports from Moscow.

Britain said they were military intelligence officers authorized by the highest levels of the Russian state to carry out the attack. But in their first interview, the men who presented themselves as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Bashirov said none of that was true. On the day ex- Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in March, they just happened to be in the area on holiday. The British government said the names are aliases.

“Our friends have advised us for a while to visit this beautiful city,” said Petrov. When asked by the interviewer, “Salisbury? This beautiful town?” He replied, “Yes. yes.”

“This is a touristic city,” added Bashirov. “They have a famous cathedral there, the Salisbury Cathedral. It is famous not only in Europe but all over the world I think. It is famous for its 123 meter spire, it is famous for its clock, the first clock that was invented in the world and which still works.”

Their appearance was a surprise twist in a case which has already caused a global diplomatic row. Many Russians believe their government’s absolute denials. But this interview confirms some of the claims from British authorities. The men admit they were in England. They did stay in that London hotel, and they did visit Salisbury, twice on the weekend of the attack. But they said they had nothing to do with the attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

“It’s very difficult to believe in what these guys actually say,” remarked journalist Mikhail Fishman.  “They just do not look like who they tell they are. If you are a normal kind of person you can’t believe it, you can’t just take it for granted.”

Britain has called the state-funded RT interview, “obfuscation and lies.” But the two men appear to have the support of the Russian government.

“I have only one question. On what grounds are they (Britain) making these statements?” asked Maria Zakharova, from the Russian Foreign Ministry. “Is that a political declaration? Why did they say that it’s a lie? What exactly in it was a lie?”

Petrov and Boshirov said they’re scared and frightened and want government protection. They also want an apology from the UK for accusing them of espionage and murder – when they are, they insist, just two victims of a ‘fantastical coincidence.’