Theresa May has insisted that the suspects in the Salisbury novichok attack must be “brought to justice”, ahead of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan today.
Speaking to the BBC, the acting prime minister said she was “going to make absolutely clear the position the UK takes in relation to what happened in Salisbury” and that Russia needs to stop its “destabilising activities” in Western Europe.
“It’s a long-standing position that Russia does not allow the extradition of its nationals,” May said. “But there are European arrest warrants out for these individuals and if they step foot outside Russia then we will be making every effort to ensure that they are brought to justice.”
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May’s meeting with Putin in Osaka today marks their first formal bilateral talks since Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who became a UK double agent, was found slumped on a shopping centre bench near his home in the Wiltshire town in March last year. He had been poisoned using a nerve agent known as novichok.
The novichok attack also left his daughter, Yulia, and police officer Nick Bailey seriously ill.
And almost four months later, Amesbury couple Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess collapsed after coming into contact with a perfume bottle that police believe was used to spray novichok on Skripal’s front door. Sturgess, 44, later died from exposure to the deadly substance.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack, claiming that the three men identified by the UK government and media outlets as suspects in the incident were civilians and not acting on behalf of the state.
However, Scotland Yard says there is sufficient evidence to charge two Russians - who entered the UK using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov - for attempted murder.
Investigative website Bellingcat last year claimed it had “conclusively identified” that Petrov was in fact “Dr Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin, a trained military doctor in the employ of the GRU”, Russia’s military intelligence service, while Boshirov was the alias of the agency’s Colonel Anatoly Chepiga.
The website said its conclusions were based on “multiple open sources, testimony from people familiar with the person, as well as copies of personally identifying documents, including a scanned copy of [Mishkin’s] passport”.
According to the BBC, Bellingcat investigators took longer to identify Mishkin as he had an “even sparser digital footprint than the first man to be named” – but that Putin has been angered by their unmasking and that “a purge [inside the GRU] could be on the way”.
In February, Bellingcat identified a third potential conspirator as Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev.
Sergeev was born in Kazakhstan in 1973, and was recruited into the GRU from the armed forces between 2000 and 2002, the site claims. He is believed to be married and to have an adult daughter.
Travel records published by Bellingcat indicate that Sergeev flew into London, under the pseudonym Sergey Fedotov, on the same day as Chepiga and Mishkin.
All three returned to Moscow on 4 March, the day that Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury
Bellingcat says it is “unclear” what role Sergeev might have played in the alleged plot to assassinate Skripal. “We could also not establish if he travelled to Salisbury on any of the days he was in the UK,” the site adds.
As a result, he has not been listed as a suspect by the UK government.
Sky News reports that Sergeev is believed to have visited Bulgaria in 2015 “just before a Bulgarian defence industry businessman and his son fell ill in a suspected poisoning”.
In addition, “the same man appears to have flown in and out of the UK and Catalonia multiple times in the run-up to their referendums”, CNN reports.
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