U.K. Charges Two Russians Over Poisoning of Former Spy

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. charged two Russian nationals over the attempted murder of a former spy and the use of a Novichok nerve agent on British soil, a move that will further sour ties with the Kremlin.

Police named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov as the aliases of the two key suspects in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury in March. British and European arrest warrants have been issued for the pair, though the government will not seek extradition as Russia’s constitution forbids it.

The U.K.’s counter-terrorism police chief, Neil Basu, told reporters in London Wednesday the two Russians entered the U.K. on an Aeroflot flight on March 2, departing March 4. They used a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle to transport the weapons-grade poison.

They stayed in London while visiting the U.K., Basu said, urging anyone who had also visited the CityStay Hotel in Bow Road to contact them. They traveled by train to Salisbury. There is no risk to members of the public who traveled on the same flights, trains or stayed in the same room, he said.

Relations between the U.K. and Russia, already frosty, were plunged into crisis over the incident, and Britain persuaded allies around the world to conduct coordinated expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats, prompting tit-for-tat retaliation from Moscow. Basu said he is working on significant lines of inquiry that the pair were agents from the Russian secret services. They had visited Britain several times before the attack, he said. He said he is looking into whether the Russian state may have issued the passports, but needs firm evidence.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names and photos released Wednesday don’t mean anything and called on the U.K. Authorities to provide evidence for their allegations to Russian law enforcement, according to the state-run Tass news agency.

“We again call on the British side to shift from public accusations and informational manipulation to practical cooperation between law-enforcement agencies,” Tass quoted her as saying.

U.K. Charges Two Russians Over Poisoning of Former Spy

Police released multiple CCTV images of the pair in their forties, appealing to witnesses to come forward with more information about their real identities and movements. Basu said the specially adapted perfume bottle was used to spray nerve agent on the Skripals’ front door, calling it “the perfect delivery method,” before the pink box was abandoned.

A British woman, Dawn Sturgess, subsequently died in July after coming into contact with the same nerve agent used against the Skripals. A mother of three, she had sprayed the contents of the bottle -- which had been found by her partner, Charlie Rowley, in a charity bin in Salisbury -- onto her wrists, police said.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that “the same toxic chemical” was found in samples from both incidents. Moscow’s representative to the OPCW reiterated that Russia had nothing to do with the attacks, official news agencies reported.

“We do not believe Dawn and Charlie were deliberately targeted, but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of,” Basu said. “We know that Novichok was applied to the Skripals’ front door in an area that is accessible to the public, which also endangered the lives of members of the public and emergency service responders.”

Basu said police couldn’t yet guarantee that all of the Novichok had been cleared from Salisbury, urging the public not to pick up anything not belonging to them. Prime Minister Theresa May is due to address lawmakers this afternoon. Chief Medical officer Professor Sally Davies told the same briefing that symptoms of the agent appeared within 12 hours.

The U.S. last month imposed sanctions on Russia, including on electronics, lasers and some oil and gas production technologies, after concluding it was behind the attack on the Skripals.

“Russian recklessness is appalling and irresponsible... we MUST uphold the global ban on chemical weapons,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter on Tuesday.

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