British prosecutors said Wednesday they have charged two Russian men with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
The Crown Prosecution Service said the men, known to British investigators as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok against the Skripals and detective sergeant Nick Bailey who fell ill after tending to the father and daughter.
Russia denied knowledge of the two men.
“The names published by the media, like their photographs, mean nothing to us,” Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman, told the TASS news agency.
Prosecutor Sue Hemming said the UK is not asking Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country’s citizens. Britain has issued a European Arrest Warrant for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country, but assistant police commissioner Neil Basu conceded it was “very very unlikely” police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.
Police say the men, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4. Basu said the men were probably using aliases. He appealed the public “to come forward and tell us who they are.”
Police released a series of images of the men as they traveled through London and Salisbury between March 2 and March 4. Police say the two men flew back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury.
British officials have blamed the Russian government for the poisoning, a charge Moscow has denied.
Police believe the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and applied to the front door of Sergei Skripal’s house.
More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the contents.
Police are still trying to determine where the bottle was between the Skripal poisoning in March and its discovery by Rowley on June 27. As a result, Basu said, police are not yet ready to bring charges in the second poisoning.
Basu would not say whether police believe the suspects worked for Russian security services but, he said, “this was a sophisticated attack across borders.”