On September 12, Russian President Vladimir Putin told the audience at the Eastern Economic Forum that he knew the identities of the two men named by British authorities as suspects in the Novichok poisonings in the British springtime. Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, as well as two British citizens, were poisoned by a nerve agent that had been developed in the former Soviet Union. One of the two later victims died.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were officers in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU. Putin assured his listeners that there was “nothing criminal” about them, and said they should contact the media.
The next day they did just that, or more specifically, they directly contacted the editor-in-chief of the state-owned channel RT, Margarita Simonyan.
The chief, herself, conducted the interview that Russia’s president had suggested – asking the two men about their short trip to Britain.Their two day visit included two visits to Salisbury, one on the same day the Skripals were poisoned. Security camera footage even showed the two men in the vicinity of Sergei Skripal’s house.
Their Reason For Traveling:Tourism
According to the suspects, they were in Salisbury to see its famous cathedral, and in particular its spire, which according to the town’s tourism advertisement, is the tallest in Britain.
“It’s famous for its 123-meter spire. It’s famous for its clock. It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world,” said Ruslan Boshirov in the interview with Simonyan.
Shortly after the interview was published, however, the internet was abuzz with questions and jokes about the implausibility of their story. The two men had said they never made it to the Salisbury Cathedral.
The Snow of Salisbury
Their reason for missing the main target of their trip? They told Simonyan Britain’s transport system was “paralyzed” by a heavy snow fall.
“We wanted to walk around the city but since the whole city was covered with snow, we spent only 30 minutes there. We were all wet,” stated Alexander Petrov.
While it was an unusually cold and snowy early March in Britain, there was no snowfall in Salisbury on March 4, the day of the poisoning, nor on the day before. On the Website of the Met office, the British government's weather service, a map of snow depth from March 2 shows the Salisbury area of between seven and 10 centimeters. British media that day reported on “widespread and major disruption to railways, roads and airports” on March 2. Security camera footage of the two men in Salisbury on the day of the poisoning, two days later, showed clear sidewalks and little evidence of remaining slush or snow.
Their Stroll Through Salisbury
While the two men admit to never reaching the cathedral, the spire can be seen from the train station. And yet despite the snow and slush, CCTV cameras found the two men walked over one mile in the opposite direction, where they were caught on camera near Skripal’s house.
The two men also disputed the notion they would carry a perfume bottle (which police said contained the Novichok nerve agent), saying that customs would have questioned them about it. They also told the editor-in-chief they are in the business of “sports nutrition,” both stories that raised eyebrows
Polygraph.info labels the claims of the two men in the RT interview as “unclear” – not because they are believable but because verification would require access to GRU personnel records and their business records – which the Russian government media agency did not provide.
Simonyan later tweeted about the interview, admitting that the men seemed nervous and were sweating.