Russia: Innocent tourists or undercover assassins?
The British government has accused two innocent Russians of a most heinous crime, said Yevgeny Krutikov in Russia’s Vzglyad.ru. According to U.K. officials, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov carried out the nerve agent attack in southern England that sickened former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, and later killed a woman who allegedly found a discarded vial containing the toxin Novichok. The British produced security camera footage of the men strolling through the cathedral city of Salisbury as well as images of their passports, and claimed the men’s names were aliases of agents of the GRU—Russia’s military intelligence service. In fact, Boshirov and Petrov are real, and they are not GRU agents. After President Vladimir Putin publicly asked the two to come forward, they gave an interview to Russian state TV outlet RT. The pair admitted they were in Salisbury, but said they were merely sports nutritionists on vacation, eager to see the famous cathedral. One was even wearing the jacket he had on in the security footage, which would have been impossible had it really been contaminated with Novichok. Frankly, they came across as businessmen of limited savvy, and possibly gay ones at that, embarrassed by their sudden fame. Such men could never be “GRU killers.”
Many Russians, though, are unconvinced, said Roman Anin in Novaya Gazeta (Russia). The government didn’t do much to hide the two men’s GRU connections. This newspaper got a hold of the Federal Migration Service’s certificate for Petrov, and not only is it marked with “SS”—which means Top Secret—but it also has the note “give no information” next to a phone number that rings at GRU headquarters. The interview itself was classic propaganda of a type Russians know all too well, said Russian journalist Peter Mironenko in TheBell.io. The interviewer, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, is an experienced journalist. Yet she somehow failed to ask Petrov and Boshirov “important and obvious questions,” such as why their passport numbers differ by only one digit, why they each had two return tickets to Russia, for March 4 and 5, and whether they had any proof that Petrov and Boshirov are their real names.
Britain is being mocked by “Putin and his troll state,” said Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian (U.K.). The two pretend tourists quoted Wikipedia verbatim, saying they had a burning desire to see Salisbury cathedral’s “123-meter spire.” Yet why would two Russian tourists have first scouted out Salisbury, possibly wandering near the Skripals’ house, for just an hour, then returned the next day for a bit longer? These “strong sons of the Russian winter” claimed they had to abandon their first attempt to see the sights because of the “muddy slush” on the city’s streets. It’s a “risible explanation whose very implausibility confirms that Moscow simply doesn’t care.” The intent is to humiliate Britain: “We killed on your territory, and now we are laughing at you.” ■