The U.K. has formally charged two Russian nationals with the poisoning of a Russian ex-pat living in England along with his daughter. Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned in early March. It is believed that a nerve agent, Novichok, was used in the attack. Novichok is a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.
Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found slumped, unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4. They were both hospitalized for weeks after falling gravely ill. Both have survived.
British Detective, Nick Bailey, who visited the Skripal home at the outset of the investigation was also hospitalized. He would also recover.
The British government now says it has “sufficient evidence” to charge Russian citizens in connection to the attack. The citizens were identified by the Crown Prosecution Service as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Both men are believed to be in Russia at the moment.
“Prosecutors from CPS Counter Terrorism Division have considered the evidence and have concluded there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and it is clearly in the public interest to charge Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov … with conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and the attempted murder of Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and police officer Nick Bailey,” a statement issued by CPS read.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. believes both suspects to be officers of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU.
“The GRU is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation, it was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state,” May told the House of Commons.
Russia has long denied the charges and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova last week dismissed the latest claims. “A link with Russia is being alleged. The names published in the media, like the photos, do not tell us anything,” she said.
Zakharova challenged British authorities “to move from public accusations and information manipulation to practical cooperation through law enforcement agencies” and to work with Moscow on the investigation. “The investigation of such serious crimes – which the UK side has repeatedly alleged – requires the most careful work, scrupulous analysis of data and close cooperation,” she said.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.
The incident touched off a major international incident where fourteen European nations along with the U.S. expelled a total of 151 Russian diplomats. Russia responded by expelling dozens of diplomats, including sixty from the U.S.
British authorities also announced the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury has been linked to the June 30 poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowly, a couple from nearby Amesbury, England. Sturgess succumbed to the poisoning, passing away on July 8 as a result of the exposure.
Rowly told authorities that he found a box of perfume in a charity bin near his home.
“Inside the box was a bottle and applicator. He tried to put the two parts together at his home address on Saturday, 30 June, and in doing so got some of the contents on himself. He said Dawn had applied some of the substance to her wrists before feeling unwell, “Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing said.
British authorities said they were not asking Russia for extradition of the two suspects as Russia notoriously does not extradite any of its nationals. However prosecutors have obtained a European Arrest Warrant and are looking to circulate Interpol Red Notices.
“Should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to detain them, to extradite them and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom,” May said.
Photo by British Government