LONDON • Britain has charged two Russians with the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter, describing the suspects as military intelligence officers almost certainly acting on behalf of the Russian state.
British police yesterday revealed images of the two men they said had flown to Britain for a weekend in March to kill former spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.
Mr Skripal's daughter, Yulia, and a police officer who attended the scene also fell ill in the case, which has caused the biggest East-West diplomatic expulsions since the Cold War. A woman later died from Novichok poisoning after her partner brought home a contaminated bottle of counterfeit perfume.
Prime Minister Theresa May lay the blame with the Russian state, describing the suspects as officers in Russia's GRU military intelligence.
"The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state," Mrs May told Parliament.
Mr Skripal, a former GRU officer who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign spy service, was found unconscious with his daughter on March 4 on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury.
The British authorities identified the suspects as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Police released CCTV images of them, describing a three-day mission that took them from Moscow to London to Salisbury, where they sprayed poison on Mr Skripal's door before flying straight back to Moscow hours later.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said the names given by Britain did not mean anything to Moscow, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.
The "remarkably sophisticated attack" appeared to be a clear assassination attempt, said Mr Neil Basu, head of UK Counter Terrorism policing.
Mr Basu said the two men, around 40 years old, travelled under genuine Russian passports, although their names are believed to be aliases. Traces of Novichok contamination were found in the London hotel room where they had stayed.
A European arrest warrant has been issued for them.