British prosecutors announced on Wednesday that they have charged two alleged Russian military-intelligence agents with the March poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter.
The Crown Prosecution Service said that Russians Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov used the nerve agent Novichok to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England. The two men, about 40, flew from Moscow to London two days before the March 4 attack, and subsequently spread the lethal chemical on the front door of Skripal’s house, police said. They are charged with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, and using Novichok, a Soviet-developed nerve agent.
Skripal and his daughter were hospitalized for weeks and are still recovering from the attack in a protected location. He had apparently been a double agent for Britain, and in 2006 was convicted in absentia of high treason and sentenced to time in a penal colony by a Russian court, giving the Kremlin ample reason to target him. Petrov and Boshirov worked for the GRU, Russia’s biggest military-intelligence agency, according to Prime Minister Theresa May.
“This was not a rogue operation,” May said. “It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”
British police are not optimistic about catching the two suspects. The country has put out domestic and European arrest warrants for them, making it risky for them to leave Russia, but assistant commissioner Neil Basu, head of counterterrorism at London’s Metropolitan Police, said it is “very very unlikely that we are going to get to that point” of making an arrest.
Russia has denied responsibility for the attack, which ignited a firestorm in Britain, Europe, and the U.S. and resulted in the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats from the U.S. and other countries.
“The names, as well as the photos, published in the media mean nothing to us,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova on Wednesday. “We once again urge the U.K. to switch from public accusations and informational manipulations to practical interaction between law-enforcement agencies.”