Putin confirms Skripal poisoning suspects are Russia citizens
Russia's President Vladimir Putin says the country knows the real identity of the two men accused of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain, but insists there is "nothing criminal" about them.
One of the men wanted by British authorities says he will comment on the case next week, breaking his silence for the first time, Russia state TV said on Wednesday.
At a press conference, Mr Putin acknowledged for the first time that the two men British prosecutors named last week in relation to the incident were Russian citizens, but denied they were working on behalf of the state.
Two Russians, operating under the aliases of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were accused by British prosecutors of attempting to murder the Skripals with a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury, England, under orders from high up in the Russian state.
"We of course checked who these people are. We know who they are, we found them. Well, I hope they will come out themselves and speak about themselves. It will be better for everyone," Mr Putin told an economic forum in Russia.
"There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future.
"They are civilians of course. I would like to appeal to them so that they hear us today. They will come somewhere, to you, the mass media ..."
The British government said Mr Putin is ultimately responsible for the attack, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.
The incident led to the expulsion of Russian diplomats from British allies around the world. Reacting to Mr Putin's comments, Britain accused Russia of "obfuscation and lies" over the poisoning.
"We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March, and they have replied with obfuscation and lies," Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman told reporters.
Mr Skripal – a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service – and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. They spent weeks in hospital before recovering and being discharged.
Then on June 30, a woman living near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, and her partner Charlie Rowley became ill after he found a counterfeit bottle of Nina Ricci perfume containing Novichok and brought it home. Sturgess died just over a week later.