The Kremlin’s Lies Are Wearing Thin Over Skripal Poisoning

September 17, 2018

On September 12 President Putin gave a speech at the Fourth Economic Forum in the Russian port city of Vladivostok. During the speech he stated that he had identified the suspects in the Skripal poisoning case, claiming that the pair are “civilians” who “have done nothing wrong”, making it clear that he’d like both the men to appear on television and explain themselves.

It is no surprise that the same evening the main suspects in the Skripal case, the so-called Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, contacted Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of RT, directly through her mobile phone. The suspects also added that they still intended on releasing an additional statement, separate to Putin’s speech, declaring their innocence.

The decision, however, of the men to appear on RT was for many indicative of a textbook Kremlin disinformation campaign. Maxim Katz, a member of the Russian United Democratic party “Yabloko”, stated that: “If you are unfairly accused of something, you would rather go to independent media channels like Echo Moscow, TV Rain or Novaya Gazeta than to RT”.

In addition to the unusual choice of media channel for these two “innocent victims,” another surprising fact was the apparent easy access to the contact details of the RT editor-in-chief. Indeed, Simonyan herself noted that acquiring her number is no problem at all, as everyone, including flower deliverymen, have it. She also said that Petrov and Boshirov “refused to give an interview to anyone else, even to our journalists because, in their words, they know me from TV and read my social media posts and for that reason, again in their words, trust me”. Simonyan also confirmed that they had presented their passports. Despite this, the passports were never shown in the interview, which does little to reassure the public that the passports were not fake.

The next day the two men, who claimed to be involved in the fitness industry, appeared in Simonyan’s office to reveal “the truth”. Petrov and Boshirov talked bewilderingly about their touristic ambitions to visit the famous Salisbury cathedral with its 123-metre spire and ancient clock. The poisoning of the Skripals was for both men merely a “fantastic coincidence”. Petrov and Boshirov were so fascinated by Salisbury that they felt it necessary to visit the city two times. They also denied bringing a bottle of Nina Ricci fragrance in which the Novickok nerve agent had been transported, saying: “It is silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume”.

On September 5 the UK prime minister Theresa May named the main suspects in the Skripal case as members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. She stated that they arrived from Moscow in London on Friday March 2 and thereafter traveled to the City Stay Hotel in East London. The next day they went to Salisbury for less than two hours. The British police stated the suspects had gone there with the intention scouting out the crime scene. The next day they made the same journey and then took the train back straight to Heathrow airport. Traces of the poison Novichok were also found in the City Stay Hotel where Petrov and Boshirov had stayed. Another suspicious fact is that Petrov and Boshirov had multiple tickets booked back to Moscow both on the 4th and 5th of March.

After the release of the interview, a UK government spokesperson stated: “We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury back in March. Today –  just as we have seen throughout – they have responded with obfuscation and lies.” The Conservative MP, John Glenn, also claimed the interview to be “not credible”.

Even commentators on the Russian side and pro-Kremlin bloggers were not convinced by the interview. Everything that Petrov and Boshirov had said was clearly a fabricated string of lies, which have done nothing other than further discredit Russia in the eyes of the rest of the world. Even from the perspective of the Russian authorities, who are still arrogantly professing their innocence, this interview is a poor alibi. All the evidence suggests that there is little, if any truth in the statements coming from the Kremlin, and even Petrov and Boshirov themselves were unable to conceal their nervousness when giving the interview. Furthermore, their reluctance to give details about their private and professional lives only helps to raise suspicions as to true identity of the two men.

Sergey Skripal and his daughter Julia were poisoned in Salisbury back in March by the nerve agent termed “Novichok” that had been sprayed onto their door handle. Both Scotland Yard and the Crown Prosecution Service said that there is sufficient evidence to charge both men. Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky has responded to the Kremlin’s version of events, stressing how the evidence clearly links the pair to the crime: “I took great interest in the Kremlin response to the Skripal case that was discussed on the pro-Kremlin TV show “Where’s the Evidence”. The evidence is very clear: Firstly, the two men arrive in London a day before the poisoning. Then they travel to a city not typically known for its tourist attractions. The next day they return to the city. They are then seen not far from the place of the crime. On the same day that Skripal was poisoned the same pair exit the UK. Traces of Novichok were found in the pair’s hotel room (probably from the device used to apply the substance). Unless the two suspects had reasonable explanations for this, any jury would almost certainly find them guilty. And, if British intelligence services have evidence that the two work for the GRU, then there is a 90% chance that an independent jury would find them guilty.”

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