Britain’s two suspects in the near-fatal poisoning of a former Russian double agent in southern England said in an interview that they were just tourists who wanted to see Stonehenge.
The suspects, identified as Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, only spent about half an hour walking through the town of Salisbury on March 3, according to comments to Russian state broadcaster RT, released on Thursday.
“We lasted for only half an hour because it was covered in snow,” Petrov said. “We went there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, but we couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere. … We got wet, took the nearest train and came back [to London].”
Both suspects denied any connection with the poisoning incident and said they were now scared to go outside, the broadcaster reported.
Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on March 4, poisoned with a substance that the British government has identified as a Russian-developed chemical weapon, apparently planted at the family’s home.
“We spent no more than an hour in Salisbury, mainly because of the lags between trains,” Boshirov said. “Maybe we did [approach] Skripal’s house, but we don’t know where it is located.”
They acknowledged they were the men shown in surveillance videos released by the British government, but denied having any kind of chemical weapon.
Petrov said he would like an apology from Britain when “they find the real poisoners,” adding “we just want to be left in peace.”
British authorities have said the suspects could have used a perfume bottle to transport the poison.
“Isn’t it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume?” Boshirov said. “We didn’t have it.”
They said they approached the media to clear their names. “We have come to you for protection,” Boshirov said.
They denied involvement in Russian military intelligence and said they work in the fitness industry, selling nutritional supplements. “Healthy food, healthy lifestyle,” Boshirov said.
It was just a “fantastic coincidence” that they were in Salisbury around the time of the incident, Petrov said. “Friends had long told us to visit this beautiful city.”
In Salisbury “there’s a famous cathedral,” Boshirov added. It’s “famous for its 123-metre spire.”
RT said the interview was conducted on Wednesday, the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the suspects to approach the media.
These men are civilians and there is “nothing extraordinary and criminal” about them, Putin said at an economic forum in the far-eastern city of Vladivostok, according to comments carried by state media.
The poisoning triggered a diplomatic stand-off between London and Moscow, with Britain and dozens of its allies expelling Russian diplomats. Russia retaliated with reciprocal expulsions.
Britain’s government condemned the RT interview as “obfuscation and lies.”
It’s “clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service – the GRU – who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country,” the British government said in a statement.
“We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March,” the statement said. “Today, just as we have seen throughout, they have responded with obfuscation and lies.”
British prosecutors this month charged the two suspects, in absentia, with conspiracy to murder and possession of a chemical weapon. Russia does not have an extradition treaty with Britain.