Russians accused of poisoning ex-spy say they were in Salisbury as tourists

Two Russian men have appeared on state television, saying they were wrongly accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter in England and had been visiting Salisbury in March for tourism.

Alexander Petrov, Ruslan Boshirov claim they may have approached Sergei Skripal's house by chance

Ruslan Boshirov, left, and Alexander Petrov are interviewed by the Kremlin-funded RT channel in Moscow on Thursday. British prosecutors have charged the two men in the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. (RT via Associated Press)

Two Russians appeared on state television on Thursday, saying they had been wrongly accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter in England and had been visiting Salisbury in March for tourism.

British prosecutors last week identified two Russians they said were operating under aliases — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — whom they accused of trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in England.

The two men who appeared on Russia's state-funded RT television station had some physical similarities to the men shown in British police images.

"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," one of the men said of the English town of Salisbury in a short clip of the interview played by RT.

They said they may have approached Sergei Skripal's house by chance, but did not know where it was located. They had stayed less than hour in Salisbury, they said, because of bad weather.

Intelligence officers?

Britain has said the two suspects were officers with a Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, and were almost certainly acting on orders from high up in the Russian state. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the case.

Skripal — a former Russian military intelligence colonel who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service — and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in Salisbury in March. They spent weeks in hospital before being discharged.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived the poisonings after lengthy stays in hospital. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

The two men said they did not work for GRU, were ordinary businessmen, and the victim of what they called "a fantastical coincidence."

The duo surfaced a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia had located Petrov and Boshirov, but that there was nothing special or criminal about them. He expressed hope they would come forward and speak publicly.

Petrov said he heard Putin's statement on the radio and decided to contract RT's editor in chief.

'Obfuscation and lies'

Putin's claims were rejected Wednesday by British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesperson, who called the men GRU officers "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 and they have replied with obfuscation and lies," James Slack said. "I have seen nothing to suggest that has changed."

The Skripals' poisoning triggered a tense diplomatic showdown. Britain and more than two dozen other countries expelled a total of 150 Russian diplomats, and Russia kicked out a similar number of those countries' envoys.

The affair returned to the headlines in July when a woman near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, died and her partner, Charlie Rowley, fell ill after Rowley found a counterfeit bottle of perfume containing the Novichok nerve agent and brought it home.

With files from The Associated Press