On Tuesday, April 9, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alexander Yakovenko, spoke with Sky News about Russia’s relationship with the U.K. following the March 2018 Novichok poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.
Yakovenko was asked about the “outstanding facts” of the incident, including the presence of Russian military intelligence (GRU) agents in Salisbury at the time of the attack and Russia’s development of the chemical weapon Novichok.
Regarding Novichok, Yakovenko said there was no “proof” the chemical agent used in the Salisbury attack had been developed in Russian labs. He added that the “so-called Novichok” could be produced anywhere in Europe.
This contradicts the testimony of one the scientist-developers of Novichok – Vil Mirzoyanov, outlined in his 2009 book, State Secrets: An Insider's Chronicle Of The Russian Chemical Weapons Program.
When pushed on the presence of GRU agents “sightseeing in Salisbury” on the day of the poisoning, Yakovenko replied that this was “the story of the British press and also the government, but unfortunately it’s not supported by the facts.”
Yakovenko cited the interview the suspects conducted with RT’s Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan, in which the men “officially” said “they are not part of the GRU,” as proof the British version of events is not correct.
He added that the British side could have the “opportunity” to question them but Russia was “never asked for that.”
On April 6, Yakovenko also met with Charlie Rowley, who along with his partner Dawn Sturgess, was poisoned after using a perfume bottle suspected to have been designed to conceal the Novichok employed in the Skripal attack.
Rowley noted the bottle he presented to Sturgess as a gift had been unopened, leading to speculation that another perfume bottle, and possibly another assassination team, were involved in the operation against Skripal.
While Rowley would survive with a number of persisting health complications, Sturgess died.
When asked about that meeting, Rowley said the “revelatory” meeting was short on answers, adding the Russian ambassador fed him “Russian propaganda.”
A Russian state media report on that meeting characterized Rowley and other victims as “being kept in the dark about what really happened to them.”
Another victim of the attack, Detective Sgt Bailey, who came into contact with the nerve agent after being sent to the Skripals' home, told the BBC "he had lost everything" because of Novichok.
In September 2018, The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that the same chemical nerve agent that poisoned Sturgess and Rowley was employed in the attack on the Skripals.
In April of that year, the OPCW backed the UK government’s findings that that agent was the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. But the OPCW was not able to determine the origin of the Novichok. The identity of the poisoning suspects, however, is another matter.
The suspects, operating under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, claimed during their interview with RT to be “just friends, civilians, tourists who went to Salisbury to visit the famous cathedral.”
According to Ambassador Karen Pierce, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, the trail of evidence is quite clear.
“CCTV and other evidence records their travel to and from Salisbury and crucially, there are images which clearly places them in the vicinity of the Skripal’s house at 11:58 A.M. on Sunday, 4 March. This was moments before the attack took place, which involved placing the substance on the Skripal’s front door handle,” she said.
The police timeline had the suspects returning to Moscow on the same day the Skripals were poisoned.
In November 2018, British authorities released CCTV footage showing the suspects, whom Bellingcat identified as GRU agents Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga (Boshirov) and Dr. Alexander Mishkin (Petrov), walking past a gas station on Wilton Road near the Skripals’ home -- despite the fact that the cathedral, whose spire is visible from the train station, is in the opposite direction of the Skripal’s home.
Traces of Novichok were later found in the London hotel where the two men stayed.
Bellingcat determined that Chepiga grew up in a small village near Russia’s border with China. That fact was later confirmed by local residents.
One woman told the Russian daily Kommersant that Chepiga served in “the secret service” in various “hot spots” after graduating from a military academy. Another told the BBC: "I know where his parents used to live, that he was a military man. An officer. He fought in war zones, then he was in Moscow.”
She added: "It's him in the photos, of course."
Former neighbors also confirmed that Petrov was in fact Mishkin.
Yevgeny Sergeyevich, who grew up in Miskhin’s home village of Loyga, told the Telegraph: “He [Mishkin] became a Hero of Russia three or four years ago. I heard about it from acquaintances in Loyga who are still in touch with him.”
At the Far Eastern Military Academy where Chepiga was enrolled, Radio Liberty also found his portrait among those who had received the Hero of the Russian Federation award.
Bellingcat would also discover that a third GRU agent, Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeyev, was in the UK at the time of the poisoning.
As for the UK declining to question them, the UK has charged Chepiga and Mishkin in absentia for conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson further told Sky News:
"As the Russian ambassador is aware, the Russian constitution forbids the extradition of Russian citizens to face criminal charges overseas. However if either of the two individuals charged in this case travel outside of Russia, we will make every effort to ensure that they are brought to the UK to face justice in a British court. The UK has repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March last year, and they have replied with obfuscation and lies."
Based on the available evidence, Polygraph.info finds Yakovenko’s claim that Russia’s involvement in the poisoning is “not supported by the facts” to be false.