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The suspects are seen on CCTV at Salisbury Station on March 3 in an image handed out by Metropolitan Police in London [File: Reuters]
The UK charged two Russian men for the Novichok nerve agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in the English city of Salsibury, accusing them of being Russian military intelligence officers.
British prosecutors issued arrest warrants on Wednesday for Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, charging them with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Both were poisoned with the military-grade nerve agent in March but survived. The failed attack sparked an international diplomactic crisis with Russia being accused by several countries – allegations Moscow has repeatedly denied.
Britain summoned Russia’s charge d’affaires in London on Wednesday after the announcement.
“Based on the body of intelligence, the government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU,” British Prime Minister Theresa May told parliament.
“This was also not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state,” she said.
May did not elaborate on the evidence cited.
Britain will present its evidence at a UN Security Council meeting on Thursday.
A spokesman for May told reporters that British officials had stressed at the meeting with Russia’s charge d’affaires that Britain wanted those responsible for the poisoning of the Skripals brought to justice.
“We have called for a security council meeting to take place on Thursday so we can update the council on the progress of the Salisbury investigation,” he said.
The meeting was due to take place around 1530 GMT, he added.
Russia on Wednesday questioned the charges.
“The names published by the media, like their photographs, mean nothing to us,” Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, told TASS news agency. “The Russian side has numerous questions for London.”
Zakharova demanded British authorities work with Moscow on the case. “Once again we call on the British side to move away from public accusations and informational manipulations towards practical collaboration of law enforcement agencies.”
Prosecutor Sue Hemming said the UK will not ask Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country’s citizens.
“We know that Novichok was applied to the Skripals’ front door in an area that is accessible to the public, which then endangered the lives of members of the public and emergency services responding,” said Neil Basu, assistant commissioner of the UK’s Metropolitan Police service.
The poisoning of the Skripals earlier in March triggered a major diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and Russia, with the British government alleging Moscow was responsible for their attempted murder.
The United States also expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in response and Moscow reciprocated.
Attacks alleged linked
Police said the suspects, both about 40-years old, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4.
Basu said authorities linked the attack on the Skripals with the separate poisoningof two British citizens in Amesbury, a town about 12km from Salisbury.
“We do not believe Dawn and Charley [the Amesbury victims] were deliberately targeted but became victims as a result of the recklessness in which such a toxic nerve agent was disposed of,” he said.
Matthew Wyman, a Russia specialist at UK-based Keele University, said May’s statement had “moved the story forward quite a lot”.
“The level of evidence makes it very difficult for those who were sceptical about Russia’s involvement – or said that the British government had accused the Russians too early and overreacted – to sustain that position,” Wyman said.
“The theme that the Kremlin wants to get across to its own domestic audience is that Russia is being victimised and, therefore, ‘you need a strong leader like [President] Vladimir Putin’.”
Britain identified the poison as Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and ’80s. Both father and daughter were hospitalised for weeks before being discharged.
“This [charges] announcement will further worsen relations between the UK and Russia,” said Al Jazeera’s Laurence Lee, reporting from London.Source: Al Jazeera