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Putin: Britain's poison suspects 'civilians,' not criminals

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Putin: Britain's poison suspects 'civilians,' not criminals
Surveillance footage of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who are accused of using a banned nerve agent against Sergei Skripal in March. Photo courtesy Met Police UK/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 12 (UPI) -- Kremlin President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday two men accused in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal are "civilians" who have no ties to Moscow -- a dispute of findings made by the British government.

British authorities charged Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov this month with the March attack on Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury. Investigators said the banned Soviet-era nerve agent novichok was found on the front door to their home.

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For months, British and U.S. authorities have blamed the Kremlin for the attack, and London said Boshirov and Petrov were Russian intelligence agents.

Wednesday, Putin said neither were not part of the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency.

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"We know who they are, we have found them," said Putin, speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok. "There is nothing special or criminal about it, I can assure you. They should go to some media outlet. I hope they will come forward and tell about themselves.

"These are civilians."

The suspects fled to Russia, who won't extradite them, but they would be arrested if they entered any European Union country.

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RELATED U.S., Western allies condemn Russia after suspects charged in poisoning

The novichok attack ultimately poisoned five people. The Skripals were hospitalized for months but recovered. A British woman, though, died weeks later after officials said she and another man came into contact with the same poison in Salisbury.

Fallout from the attack has had great geopolitical consequences, as countries around the world have since expelled Russian diplomats, and Moscow responded by kicking out ambassadors from those countries.

The poison attack has left Britain and Russia in a standoff not seen since the end of the Cold War.

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Several countries, including the United States, joined Britain in condemning the use of a nerve agent and blamed the Kremlin for the attack.

British police identified the suspects based on their passports and surveillance video, but authorities say Boshirov and Petrov could be aliases. Russian news agency Fontanka has found traffic tickets and a Moscow apartment registered to Boshirov, but none of the neighbors know him. Also, a man who shares Petrov's name and birthday has been found to work for a Russian vaccine company.

For months, Russia has accused the British authorities of fabricating the evidence in the Skripal case, saying the surveillance footage is doctored.

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