Vladimir Putin: ‘nothing criminal’ about suspects in Novichok nerve agent poisoning

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LONDON — Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that his country has identified the two men that Britain says are Russian intelligence officers suspected of poisoning a former spy and his daughter with a nerve agent in an English city.

Putin said there is “nothing criminal” about the pair, who are known to British investigators as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Sergei Skripal, a Russian former spy, and his daughter Yulia were found unresponsive on a bench in Salisbury, about 90 miles southwest of London, on March 4 after they came into contact with the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok.

British prosecutors last week charged the two suspects, who are likely to have traveled under aliases, in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, causing grievous bodily harm and use of Novichok.

More: UK Prime Minister: Nerve-agent poisoning suspects were Russian spies

“We know who these people are, we have found them,” Putin told a panel of an economic conference in Russia’s Far East of the suspects. “There is nothing special or criminal about it, I can assure you,” he added.

Asked by the panel’s moderator if the men work for the military, Putin replied that they are “civilians.” He urged the two to come forward.

“I would like to call on them so that they can hear us today: They should go to some media outlet. I hope they will come forward and tell about themselves,” he said.

Britain blames Russia for the poisonings but Moscow denies any involvement.

Sergei Skripal was jailed in Russia for spying for Britain, but was released as part of a spy swap and moved to Salisbury in 2010.

The Skripals were taken to the hospital in critical condition and released weeks later. In July, Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old woman from Salisbury, died after she and her partner Charlie Rowley, 48, were found unconscious in Amesbury, a town about 10 miles from Salisbury. British authorities said they were also poisoned with Novichok.

British police believe the nerve agent was smuggled to Britain in a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle and put on the front door of Sergei Skripal’s house. Rowley found the bottle months later and gave it to Sturgess, who is believed to have sprayed the substance on herself. Rowley spent weeks in the hospital before being discharged.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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