Russian media asks whether novichok ‘hitmen’ are gay 

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The novichok scandal took an unexpected twist today when the Russian media questioned whether Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were gay.

One online news website, Mash news, even started a poll asking readers whether the pair were ‘agents made to be gays or gays made to be agents’.

The speculation began when the suspects were today asked by RT: ‘Speaking about normal men, on the (CCTV) video you are shown always together. You were together, lived together, walked everywhere together. What does in fact connect you?’

Boshirov replied: ‘Let’s not pry into our private lives.’

When online speculation began over their sexuality, interviewer 38-year-old Margarita Simonyan – who is head of the Kremlin ‘propaganda’ channel – retorted: ‘I do not know if they are gays or not.

‘They are quite fashionable – with little beards, hair cuts, tight pants, sweaters tight over big biceps. They did not harass me.

‘Anyway I’m already out of the harassable age. Still, I poured them cognac for courage.

‘During the interview I told them that the world least of all worries with the question if they slept in one bed or not.’

The pair suggested they were ordinary tourists wanting to see – among other sights – Salisbury cathedral.

The debate over their sexuality drew attention away from whether this pair were using alias names when they visited Salisbury, as Britain has argued.       

Theresa May today blasted Russia’s novichok assassins after they claimed to be tourists and called their story ‘lies and blatant fabrication’.

The Prime minister said the suspects, who used the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to get into Britain, had ‘insulted to the public’s intelligence’ and had been ‘deeply offensive to victims’. 

Today the suspected GRU agents, believed to be from Siberia, told state TV station RT they were stuck in Salisbury twice in two days after failing to get to Stonehenge because of snow.

In the ‘absurd’ interview the men even admitted they may have ended up at Sergei Skripal’s suburban home ‘by accident’ while looking for the cathedral, which has a 400ft spire and is 25 minutes in the other direction.

The pair also refused to say why they booked into an east London hotel if they wanted to be at Stonehenge and failed to explain why they appeared to have no luggage when they travelled home. 

Body language expert Judy James told MailOnline the men appeared at times to reciting ‘a script’ while others said their description of Salisbury and its landmarks bore a remarkable resemblance to the city’s Wikipedia page. 

Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT even suggested the suspects weren’t trained killers – hinting they were gay lovers on a romantic break because they had ‘little beards, short hair cuts and tight pants’. 

The PM’s spokesman said today: ‘The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview, given to a Russian state sponsored TV station, are an insult to the public’s intelligence, and more importantly they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack. 

‘Sadly it is what we have come to expect. An illegal chemical weapon has been used on the streets of this country, we have seen four people left seriously ill in hospital and an innocent woman has died.

‘Russia has responded with contempt. The police have set out very clearly the evidence against these two men, they are wanted men and we have taken all steps to ensure they are apprehended and brought to justice in the UK if they ever again step foot outside of Russia.’ 

Scotland Yard says it was aware of statements made ‘by two men’ and reiterated ‘Alexander Petrov’ and ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ are ‘wanted’. 

After the extraordinary interview today, it also emerged: 

Petrov and Boshirov said they fear British secret services has a ‘bounty on our heads’ and demanded an apology from Theresa May’s Government.

The men told state-funded TV station RT the claims they are assassins are ‘complete bulls***’.

They claim they were only in Salisbury for an hour because of gaps in the Sunday train service to London and said if they stumbled upon Sergei Skripal’s suburban house it was only by accident.

Scotland Yard and MI5 say they are GRU spies sent to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia after carrying enough novichok to wipe out 4,000 civilians into Britain on a plane from Russia.

But during their brazen TV appearance the men claimed they now fear for their lives and demanded an apology from Britain – RT said they were so nervous they needed Cognac before going on air.

Boshirov also denied the Kremlin has forced them to speak out and said: ‘When your life is turned upside down, you don’t know what to do and where to go. We’re afraid of going out, we fear for ourselves, our lives and lives of our loved ones.’

While Petrov, who said he had never heard the name Skripal until Britain pointed the finger at him, replied: ‘You can’t imagine what it’s like. We’d like if one day the real perpetrators are found and we’re given an apology.’

But within minutes of their stage-managed TV appearance today it was branded ‘Kremlin managed propaganda’ a and the PM’s spokesman called their account ‘obfuscation and lies’. 

Salisbury MP John Glen tweeted: ‘Delighted that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov were able to see the world-class attractions that Salisbury has to offer. But very strange to come all this way for just two days while carrying Novichok in their luggage’.

Critics also pointed out the men said they failed to cope with ‘slush’ despite reportedly living in Siberia, where there is often snow on the ground for half the year. 

Their bungled assassination attempt in March failed but tragically claimed the life of Dawn Sturgess who found the weapon three months later and sprayed it on her wrist believing it was Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume.

But the men today described themselves as ‘decent lads’ working in the sports nutrition business.

They said they went to Salisbury twice in two days in an attempt to get to Stonehenge but were thwarted each time because of snow.

Boshirov and Petrov said they got ‘soaked’ and ‘freezing’ and on both visits stayed for a short period, walking a short distance and stopping for coffee, before heading back to London on the train.

But Boshirov also admitted they may have stumbled upon the former spy’s suburban home – half an hour’s walk from the station and away from the city centre – but only by accident.

He said: ‘Maybe we did [approach]Skripal’s house, but we don’t know where it was located’.  

Police say they went on Saturday March 3 as a dry run before carrying out the assassination attempt on Sunday March 4 and travelling back to Heathrow and a flight to Moscow that evening. 

Responding to the interview of Petrov and Boshirov, a Government spokesman said: ‘The Police and Crown Prosecution Service have identified these men as the prime suspects in relation to the attack in Salisbury.

‘The Government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service – the GRU – who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country.

‘We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. Today – just as we have seen throughout – they have responded with obfuscation and lies.’

The suspects insisted today that they wanted to go to Salisbury ‘after a recommendation from a friend’ – not to smear nerve agent on Sergei Skripal’s front door.

 

 

Today critics said the men were lying in an interview with a TV station often branded Putin’s propaganda machine.

Salisbury MP John Glen said today: ‘Salisbury welcomes tourists from around the world and is very much open for business. But the Petrov/Borishov statements are not credible and don’t match the widely accepted intelligence we have on these individuals’.

Boshirov denied ever hearing the name Skripal, saying: ‘I didn’t know, I haven’t heard – until this situation, until this nightmare with us started, I haven’t heard this last name [Skripal], I knew nothing about them. We are asking for your protection’.

RT editor Margarita Simonyan, who interviewed them last night, asked the two men whether they had Novichok or any poison with them, the emphatically said no.

Boshirov said: ‘Is it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume? The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women’s perfume in their luggage. We didn’t have it’.

Britain insists the men were sent by the Russia state, who handed them ‘perfect’ aliases and ID documents used to secure UK visa. 

Traces of novichok were also found in their budget hotel room in east London, where they stayed during their short trip to the UK in March. 

But the men say that they are the victims of a smear campaign and were holidaymakers.

Petrov, who only a week ago said he knew nothing about Salisbury and had been in Siberia, told RT: ‘We arrived in Salisbury on March 3 and tried to walk through the town, but we lasted for only half an hour because it was covered in snow’.

‘Of course, we went there to see Stonehenge but we couldn’t do it because there was muddy slush everywhere. We got wet, took the nearest train and came back [to London]’.

Boshirov added: ‘We spent no more than an hour in Salisbury, mainly because of the lags between trains’.

The following day the returned to Salisbury again, saying it was sunny in London, but claimed they arrived in Salisbury and it started snowing again. 

They said they went for a walk to the cathedral but ‘left early’ because they were cold and wet before returning to Russia that evening.

Detectives believe the two suspects, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in the centre of Salisbury on March 4 as the men flew back to Russia. 

Officers formally linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury where Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent.

Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after the pair fell ill.

A police officer who visited the home of the Skripals shortly after the attack, Nick Bailey, was also left critically ill from exposure to the substance.  

Yesterday the Russian President claimed they were civilians not GRU military spies – despite Britain’s evidence the men were sent by the Russian state to kill former spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia.

Speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok, Mr Putin said: ‘We have checked what kind of people they are. We know who they are, we have found them. There is nothing criminal in it’. 

The men at the centre of the scandal have finally admitted they were in Salisbury – days after denying it. 

‘No comment for the moment. Maybe later,’ Alexander Petrov was reported to have told State television channel Rossiya-24.

Last week the same man had told Russian TV: ‘I don’t know a thing about it. And I have nothing to do with the Skripal story.’

He claimed he was the victim of mistaken identity, and denied possessing a foreign passport, adding: ‘This is a complete coincidence,’ he said. ‘Let alone London, I can’t even manage to get to the Altai Mountains (in southern Siberia).’

The other suspect, Ruslan Boshirov, also named by anti-terror police in London, had not spoken until today.

Viktoria Skripal, niece of poisoned ex-double agent Sergei Skripal, said yesterday:  ‘According to my information, real Alexander Petrov was not in the UK at that time. These are ordinary people. Petrov’s work is even not related to the government.’

She said Petrov and Boshirov ‘are in complete bewilderment and shock over what’s happening.

‘I knew it from the first day that this whole story about involvement of Petrov and Boshirov is fake.’

This claim appeared to contradict Putin who said the Russian government had ‘found’ the pair identified by Britain.

MailOnline revealed that the suspects casually window-shopped in Salisbury just minutes after they tried to murder former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

The exclusive first footage seen of the killers shows the two men looking relaxed and good-humoured as they sauntered down the street towards Salisbury station to make their getaway.

The suspects were handed genuine Russian passports and then secured visas from the British embassy in Moscow under bogus aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to avoid detection during their murder mission in March.

Their passports were repeatedly used on trips from Moscow to Amsterdam, Geneva, Milan and Paris between September 2016 and March 2018 with British investigators now scrambling to work out exactly what the Russian spies were doing in Europe.

Petrov’s passport was also used in London on February 28 2017 – a year before their botched mission to kill former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent smeared on his front door in suburban Salisbury.

The travel details have been published by Fontanka, an independent Russian media outlet with a strong track record of investigative reporting into Putin’s regime.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, one of Britain’s top chemical weapons experts, told MailOnline that UK security sources have briefed him that the men, who were GRU military agents, had watertight backstories that helped them avoid being stopped at the UK border.

He said: ‘The passports were perfect in every detail including all the electrics and circuitry. It fooled the British border electronic security which is considered to be among the best around. We also gave them visas they must have had a plausible back story’.

Mr de Bretton Gordon suggested that Russia may even have hacked the UK’s border security system to make doubly sure they were not flagged as ‘people of interest’ and interviewed. The Home Office today denied this.

Security Minister Ben Wallace said Vladimir Putin is ‘ultimately responsible’ for the novichok attack because of his tight grip on the GRU spy network which sent two ‘calamitous’ state assassins on a ‘pathetic’ mission to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

He said: ‘The state had clearly decided to sit behind this action and lend its logistics. The men were given genuine passports, provided with aliases that survived a certain level of test and visas used by many law-abiding Russians to visit Britain for holidays or business.

‘The Russian state, which we know had invented novichok, must have made sure it was put in a package that was there to disguise it. If you let them into your system, airside in Russia, it becomes a harder thing to detect’.

Mr Wallace said he is ‘100 per cent sure’ the men named carried out the attack and claimed that Vladimir Putin has ultimate responsibility for the actions of his spies – but added: ‘This was more Johnny English than James Bond’.

He said: ‘Ultimately he does, insofar as he is president of the Russian Federation and it is his government that controls, funds and directs the military intelligence – that’s the GRU – via his minister of defence. I don’t think that anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isn’t in control of his state’.

A critic of Putin’s regime has claimed the suspects are ‘already dead’ and that a search for them is futile. 

Andrei Piontkovsky believes that Petrov and Boshirov could have been executed to hide traces of the crime.

He compared the case to that of Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, the men accused by Britain of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in 2006.

Lugovoy and Kovtun went public to deny the claims soon after being accused, meaning the Russian authorities then protected them, said Piontkovsky. 

‘Lugovoy and Kovtun rescued themselves by running to Ecko (radio station) and going public,’ the respected mathematician and political analyst said.

‘One (Lugovoy) even had to be made an MP. If ‘Petrov’ and ‘Bashirov’ don’t appear in the coming days, it means they are already dead.’

Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons last week that CCTV evidence ‘clearly’ places the two Russians in the vicinity of the Skripals’ house shortly before the attack on them.

 

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