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Skripal suspects' story: What doesn't add up?

Roman Goncharenko | Darko Janjevic
September 14, 2018

After the UK identified two men wanted in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the men have claimed innocence on TV. The men said they only visited Salisbury to admire its architecture. But some things don't make sense.

Petrov and Boshirov in Salisbury
Image: picture-alliance/Met Police UK

The men claiming to be Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, suspected of the attack on double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern UK city of Salisbury in March, have denied any wrongdoing during their television debuton Russia's state-funded RT television station.

The UK believes the two to be operatives of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU. Last week, investigators published mugshots and CCTV images of the two men, putting them near Skripal's home at the time of the poisoning. Traces of the agent Novichok have also been found in the room the two men stayed in in London, according to the investigators.

On Thursday, the pair denied the allegations and claimed to have had no knowledge of Skripal at the time of their visit to Salisbury. They also said they traveled to "wonderful" Salisbury as tourists.

DW takes a closer look at what the two suspects said.

1. Stealthy 'businessmen'

During the interview, Petrov and Boshirov claim to be "middlemen" dealing in nutritional supplements, fitness and health foods. Entrepreneurs in this industry usually advertise their services far and wide, including via an extensive social media presence. However, searching for their names on social networks gives scant results. While there are online accounts of people named Ruslan Boshirov, none of them indicates any link with fitness or other supplements.

2. They spent more time traveling to Salisbury than staying there

Petrov and Boshirov spent a little over two days on UK soil, arriving in London from Moscow on the afternoon of Friday, March 2, and leaving late on Sunday. They made two trips to Salisbury, once on Saturday and once on Sunday. The Russian nationals say their friends recommended that they visit Salisbury and "enjoy its Gothic architecture."

Petrov and Boshirov during the RT interview
The two suspects refused to do an interview in a TV studio and talked to RT's Margarita Simonyan in her office insteadImage: Reuters/RT

However, with the snowfall causing traffic disruptions on Saturday, the two men reportedly spent more than two and a half hours traveling from their London hotel to Salisbury train station. They only stayed there for about two hours. In the interview, the men say they only walked around for less than an hour before getting soaked, giving up and going back to the train station for a coffee.

Their second trip to Salisbury took almost four hours on Sunday, and they stayed for about the same length of time. This time, they apparently managed to see the famous Salisbury Cathedral.

3. Visiting the cathedral, missing out on Stonehenge

Speaking of the cathedral, Petrov and Boshirov very precisely cited its height and provided facts about its medieval clock, as if reading them from Wikipedia. They also said they wanted to see the world-famous Stone Age monument Stonehenge, but decided against it due to the bad weather.  However, the weather in Salisbury was much better on Sunday, and Stonehenge was open to visitors.

Two charged over Novichok attack

4. Russians afraid of British winter

Petrov and Boshirov explain their short stays in Salisbury with the bad weather, blaming slush and snow. While the UK did suffer a snowstorm in early March, many Western observers ridiculed the claim that two Russians were deterred by the UK's chilly climate. While the temperature in Salisbury only reached 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday, it was still 12 degrees Celsius warmer than in Moscow. By Sunday, it was 9 degrees in Salisbury and the snow had melted almost everywhere, as clearly seen on the CCTV images showing Petrov and Boshirov.

Read more: Putin says Skripal poisoning suspects are 'civilians'

5. To the cathedral, via the Skripal house

The Salisbury Cathedral is only a 15-minute walk from the local train station, heading northwest. However, the two took exactly the opposite route, moving southeast — directly to Sergei Skripal's neighborhood. A CCTV camera recorded them at a petrol station minutes away from his house. UK investigators believe they applied Novichok to his door handle. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a park bench in the city center later that day.

Read more: Novichok came in 'expensive' looking perfume bottle

Yulia Skripal: 'We are so lucky to have both survived'

Confusion also persists around the UK's claims that the names Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov are merely aliases, and separate reports that the men had traveled under specially-issued passports.

Ahead of the interview, according to RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, the men established their identity by showing her regular Russian IDs, but refused to show their passports or provide any detail on their places of origin, families or place of work beyond the vague description of "fitness industry." The reason, according to the men, is that they are afraid for their safety and reluctant to provide the press with any more "fuel."