Russia is ready to consider a request by British investigators to come and interrogate the two men accused of poisoning a former spy, the Kremlin said Friday.
Britain charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov last week with trying to kill double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the March 4 attack in Salisbury, but a resident of a nearby England town later died after apparently having contact with the poison.
Petrov and Boshirov appeared on Thursday on the state-funded RT channel, saying they visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the poisoning. They denied the British claim that they were Russian military intelligence officers, saying they work in the nutritional supplements business.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Friday that Russian authorities will consider Britain’s request to interrogate them if it comes. He added that Britain has stonewalled repeated Russian offers to conduct a joint inquiry.
“There is a mechanism of legal assistance regulated by bilateral documents and international law,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “If we receive a formal request from London, it will certainly be considered by the Russian side in strict conformity with the law.”
He added that “from the very beginning, Russia has emphasized its desire to cooperate to clarify the circumstances of what happened in Salisbury and track down the culprits,” but “the British side has strongly rejected such cooperation.”
Britain has said the attack received approval “at a senior level of the Russian state,” an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
“Russia’s position has remained unchanged and clear - we consider it unacceptable to link the Russian leadership or the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury,” Peskov said.
Britain identified the Russian suspects last week and released security-camera photos of them in Salisbury on March 3 and 4.
British investigative group Bellingcat said on Friday that no information could be found on either Petrov or Boshirov in Russia’s central resident database prior to 2009, the year internal passports were issued in both their names.
The finding suggested the names on the passports were cover identities, the organization said.
Bellingcat also claimed that Petrov’s passport records included a stamp reading, “Do not release information.”
The surprise TV appearance by Petrov and Boshirov came a day after Putin said Russian authorities know the identities of the two men but insisted that they were civilians and there is “nothing criminal” about them.
The men told RT they traveled to Salisbury on March 3 to see its famed cathedral but were turned back by slush and snow, then returned the next day when the weather was better and spent two hours exploring the “beautiful” city.
The pair were caught on camera at Salisbury rail station on March 4, and minutes later another camera spotted them walking in the direction of Skripal’s house - the opposite direction from the cathedral.
The men, who appeared to be about 40, claimed they did not know who Skripal was or where he lived.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, on Thursday derided their claims as “lies and blatant fabrications.”
Peskov said he hasn’t yet had time to watch their interview and said he didn’t know if Putin saw it. He wouldn’t elaborate on how long it took the Russian authorities to find the two men, and said that the Kremlin had nothing to do with arranging their interview.