The two Russians charged with attempted murder in the Salisbury nerve agent attack have claimed they were visiting the town's "famous" cathedral as tourists.
Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were interviewed by the editor-in-chief of state-funded RT - formerly Russia Today - Margarita Simonyan who said she had "spent an evening" with the suspects.
In the interview, they claimed to be in the fitness industry and said friends had suggested they visit "wonderful" Salisbury and go sightseeing around Wiltshire.
A UK government spokesman rubbished the men's claims as "obfuscation and lies", and the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview given to a Russian-state sponsored TV station are an insult to public's intelligence."
RT ran part of the interview on Thursday morning, in which they said they were the men shown in the CCTV photographs released by British police and insisted Boshirov and Petrov were their real names.
They are then accused of looking nervous, to which Boshirov responds: "How would you look if your life had suddenly been turned upside-down, in a single day, and broken?"
When asked why they were in Salisbury, Petrov said: "Our friends have been recommending that we visit this wonderful city for a long time already."
"There's a famous cathedral there, the Salisbury cathedral," Boshirov added. "It's famous not just all over Europe, it's famous all over the world I think. It's famous for its 123-metre spire, it's famous for its clock, the first clock made in the world that still runs."
They asked for an apology and "for the real perpetrators" to be caught. They also told RT that the snow and "muddy slush" meant they cut short their planned visit to Stonehenge, and that their first trip to Salisbury was less than an hour because of train delays.
Talking to Simonyan, who had poured the suspects cognac "for courage", Petrov said: "We came to Salisbury on the 3rd, we tried to walk around the city, but since the city was covered in snow, we were able to only for a half an hour, we got wet.
"Of course, we went to visit Stonehenge, Old Sarum, the cathedral of the Virgin Mary, but it didn't work out because there was muddy slush everywhere, as we'd say in Russian, total slush. We got wet, returned to the train station and went back on the next train [to London]."
The pair claimed they didn't know where Sergei Skripal's house was.
"Maybe we passed by it, maybe we didn't pass by it, I don't know, " Boshirov said. "I hadn't heard this surname."
The prime suspects also denied taking Novichok or a bottle of Nina Ricci perfume with them to the UK.
"Isn't it silly for decent lads to have women’s perfume? When you pass through customs they check all your things," Boshirov said.
"That would raise questions even among ordinary people, why does a man have women's perfume. We didn't have it," Petrov said.
Both men claimed to be afraid of going out, fearing for themselves and their loved ones. They said they frequently travelled to Europe for a business they supposedly had related to sports nutrition.
“We'd like it if one day the real perpetrators were found and gave us an apology,” Petrov said.
“We can't go outside, we can't go to the petrol station,” Boshirov said.
He bristled when asked why the two men were always together. "We're not here for an interrogation," he said.
RT published the full interview online, and Russian state television broadcast highlights from it throughout Thursday, a day after Vladimir Putin called on the two men to speak to the media.
Although the flimsy alibi raised questions among many, the foreign ministry spokeswoman said it showed that "the British were lying".
Petrov and Boshirov have been charged with attempting to murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in March by spraying Novichok nerve agent on the handle of their door. Scotland Yard have said these names are probably aliases.
In a series of tweets, Simonyan said she was called by the two men and carried out the interview in Russian before it was translated to English.
She added: "I wasn't looking for them. More specifically, our journalists were searching for them just like all other professional journalists, through social networks, sources and so on. We even found a few, but not the right ones.
"They refused to give an interview to anyone else, even our journalists, because, in their words, they know me from TV and read my social media and for that reason, again in their words, trust me.”
Theresa May's spokesman on Wednesday reiterated that “these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service the GRU who used a devastatingly toxic chemical weapon in Salisbury.”
Asked about the case on Wednesday at the eastern economic forum in Vladivostok, Mr Putin tried to shift the blame away from the Russian state, insisting that the two men were “civilians”.
“We know who they are, we found them,” he said at a panel with the leaders of China and Japan. “I hope they will appear on their own to talk about themselves, that will be better for everyone. There's nothing especially criminal there, I assure you.”
His comments suggested that Russia would put forward an Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to deny or muddy the waters around the British accusations.
What were Petrov and Boshirov doing in the UK?
Petrov: We planned to go to London and let loose, so to speak, it wasn't a business trip. We planned to go to London and in Salisbury in one day. In England on March 2 and March 3 there was a transport collapse - snow so powerful - we couldn't get back.
Petrov: We were there three days. We came on March 2, we looked at the train schedule.
Boshirov: We planned to go for one day and look around. Salisbury is a normal touristic city.
Petrov:We came to Salisbury on the March 3, we were there for, we tried to walk around the city, but since the city was covered in snow, we were able to only for a half an hour, we got wet.
Boshirov: No media, no TV channels are showing that on that day, the third, there was a collapse in that city, a snow collapse, it was impossible to go anywhere, we got wet to the knees.
Petrov:Of course we went to visit Stonehenge, Old Sarum, the cathedral of the Virgin Mary, but it didn't work out because it was slush, as we'd say in Russian, total slush. We got wet, returned to the train station and went back on the next train.
What did they do in Salisbury?
Boshirov: We were drinking hot coffee because we had gotten all wet, on the third we spent no more than an hour there.
Petrov: The trains were going with big gaps because of the transport collapse, we went back to London and continued our travels.
Boshirov: We walked around London. On the third yes (an hour in Salisbury).
Petrov: It wasn't possible to go anywhere. On March 4 we returned because London had thawed out, it was warm weather.
Boshirov: The sun was shining.
Petrov:We wanted to visit Old Sarum and the cathedral, we decided to finish this task on March 4. To visit them.
Boshirov: To see this famous cathedral, to look at Old Sarum. We saw them.
Petrov: On March 4 we saw them, but again around lunch snow started, that's why we left early.
Boshirov: The cathedral is very beautiful, there are lots of tourists there, there are lots of Russian tourists, there are lots of Russian-speaking tourists there.
Petrov: There should be many photographs (with us). Of course we took pictures.
Boshirov: We were sitting in the park, we were sitting in a cafe and drinking coffee. We were walking around and enjoying this English Gothic, this beauty.
Petrov: For some reason they're not showing this. They're only showing us at the train station.
Did they visit Sergei Skripal's house?
Petrov: Maybe we went by there.
Boshirov: Do you know where the Skripals' home is? I don't.
Petrov: If we would have known where it was.
Boshirov: Maybe we passed by it, maybe we didn't pass by it, I don't know, I hadn't heard. I hadn't heard this surname, I didn't know anything about them before this situation, this nightmare with us started.
Did they have Novichok in a perfume bottle?
Petrov: I think this is total nonsense
Boshirov: Isn't it silly for a normal man to carry women's perfume? Even just passing through customs.
When you pass through customs they check all your things, or just any police officer can look through them, I think if we would have had something, they would have had questions. Why does a man in his luggage have women's perfume?
Petrov:That would raise questions even among simple people, why a man has women's perfume. We didn't have it.
Why were they always pictured together?
Boshirov: Let's not get into our personal lives. We came here to you for protection, but it's turning into some kind of interrogation, and we're starting to get really deep into things.
We're not asking you things. We're not here for an interrogation.
The British are making a lot of allegations, that we stayed in a hotel room where they show a single bed, but that the nearby rooms are for two or three people, it's normal for a tourist to come and stay in a two-person room, in a suite of two rooms, to save money, it's just life, to live together is more fun and simpler, it's normal for any normal person.
What has the interviewer said of Petrov and Boshirov?
Margarita Simonyan posted a series of tweets highlighting the finer details of her exclusive interview with two of Britain's most wanted men.
Here are some of the points she raised:
- They refused to answer questions about their business and their location that would "allow journalists to dig further"
- They refused to show their passports to the camera
- One is a smoker, one is not
- Simonyan: "Who they are, what they did in England, who they say they are, I do not know and can not know. I tried to ask them as much as possible those questions that concern the public.
Replying to Twitter speculation, Simonyan said she does not know if Petrov and Boshirov are gay.
"Guys, I don't know if they are gay or not. They're fashionable guys as far as I can tell, with fancy beards and haircuts, tight trousers, biceps bulging under their tops. They didn't try to hit on me, but then I'm past that age."
Why did they come forward to speak to media?
Boshirov:We came for protection.
Petrov: If it can be said quietly, after our lives turned into a nightmare we didn't know what to do, where to go. To the police, to the investigative committee, I don't know, to the UK embassy.
Boshirov: To the FSB.
Petrov: We really didn't know what to do, where to go, to say, hello people.
Boshirov: When our lives were completely overturned - you don't know what to do, where to go. Lots of people were writing, go to the British embassy and explain things.
Petrov: Of course we read it (what is being written about them).
Boshirov: Of course you read it because we can't go out on the street. We're afraid, we're worried. We fear for ourselves, we fear for our lives and those of our loved ones, we fear those people who know us.
Petrov: We even read publications that there's a reward for us.
Boshirov: (Dmitry) Gudkov (Russian opposition leader) promised a trip to England for whoever brings these two people in. Do you think that's okay?
You think we should just sit, walk around, smile, not be afraid and go around and say hi to people? Any normal person would be afraid.
Why did they speak to RT?
Boshirov: We were reading news on your Telegram.
Petrov: In Telegram you offered us a forum.
Boshirov: Having read this, we decided to call you and come to you.
Did they come forward because Putin told them to?
Petrov: You know Margarita, we would have made a video.
Boshirov: And put it up online.
Petrov: We never had dealings with media before, and it would be easier probably to pour your soul out on the internet.
Boshirov: To ask for protection and help.
Petrov: Today, I didn't see this on TV, I just heard this on the radio (Putin's suggestion they come forward) and suggested this.
Boshirov: That gave us a push.
Do they work for the GRU?
Boshirov: I don't
Petrov: And I don't … Yes this is probably the scariest part (UK allegations).
What do they do for work?
Boshirov: We are ordinary entrepreneurs. If we talk about our business it will suffer, and the people we work with will suffer, and we don't want this.
Petrov: We will reduce the search area for your colleagues. It's the fitness industry, related to sport nutrition, vitamins, micro-elements, proteins, gainers and so on. If we say more, our partners and a wide circle of acquaintances.
We consult here, now the trend is to consult not about growing your biceps but about keeping your figure, healthy lifestyle.
Boshirov:Eating right, a healthy lifestyle - we don't want to bring attention to this, to get deeper into these questions, I wouldn't want people among our clients to suffer.
Did they travel to Europe?
Petrov: Of course, but just for our business. (To Switzerland mainly?) Not to Switzerland mainly, if I recall correctly we were only in Switzerland a few times.
Boshirov: The number of times has been exaggerated.
Petrov: We were in Switzerland for New Year's … We weren't always flying for business. We went to Switzerland to relax. We were also there for business, if I can recall when that was.
Boshirov:Flying into Geneva doesn't mean anything, it's normal, flying to Geneva is the quickest way to get to Mont Blanc, you can go to France, a few kilometres away, to visit France, it's comfortable.
Petrov: It was both. The trips were mainly for business. For sport nutrition. Preparations are sold in Europe. We don't just buy them, put them in a suitcase and bring them here.
We study the market, see what innovations there are, with special BADs, immuno-acids, vitamins, micro-elements, we pick out the best stuff and come here to deal with the issue of how to supply these innovations on the market here. That's one of the things we do.
Where did they get the clothes they wore in the UK?
Petrov: We still have those clothes.
Boshirov: They're in the wardrobe, that coat is hanging there.
Petrov: We bought those shoes in England.
Boshirov: New Balance sneakers from the ads, it's clothing we still wear now.
Petrov: These boots here, you bought them on Oxford Street if I'm not mistaken.
Boshirov: On March 3, actually.
Petrov: When we got wet on March 3.
Boshirov: On March 3 we got wet and returned.
Petrov: We went back to London to shop.
Boshirov: We got new shoes. I went and bought these shoes, I was already wearing different shoes … It's in Russia, we can show you. I have my coat here, this same coat (shows the coat).
Petrov: All my things are at home in the wardrobe.
Why were the CCTV pictures at Gatwick timestamped the same?
Petrov: How can we explain this? You need to ask them.
Boshirov: We always go together, through the same corridor, through the same customs agent, through the same police officer, one goes through, the other waits, we went through the corridor together, we're always together.
You'd better ask them why we're seen at the same second, at the same time, but separately.
Petrov: We go together because my English is a little better, and if there are any problems I help Ruslan. If we could remember how it was.
Boshirov: I don't know how they do it. When you fly in and out, visiting different places, you never pay attention to the camera, because it's not interesting, how they're filming, where they're filming, I'm not interested in this and I didn't pay attention to this. But if they printed these photos at that time then better ask them.
If not them, who poisoned the Skripals?
Petrov: It's hard to say, we think about it, we're living this. The only thing I'd like, is if they ever find the real poisoners, they could at least apologise to us.
Boshirov: The English.
Petrov: Just for the fact that the past, how long, week, five days, I've lost track of the date.
Boshirov: You can't imagine what's happened to us.
Petrov:You can't even go fill up your car in peace. We think people will recognise us. How can we conduct ourselves differently if they show us on television
Boshirov: Every day those two photographs are all over the screen, you turn on the radio and it's Boshirov, Petrov.
Petrov: It's just scary.
Boshirov: You turn on the television, Boshirov, Petrov, how would you live? For me it's scary. I'm worried and scared, I don't know what will happen tomorrow, that's why we came to you.
Petrov: We're already trying not to watch the news, I just ask sometimes if there's something new, and I wait for the answer that no, it's all like it used to be, but again, yes there is, yes there is, they keep whipping it up, whipping it up, whipping it up. How long can it go on?
We have no idea (what is next). We'd just like to be left alone.
Are they afraid of being arrested abroad?
Petrov:We really hope this situation gets cleared up.
Boshirov: That it gets cleared up and the other side, the English side, will apologise for what they've brought about, and that they find those people who are involved in this story with the Skripals, and that our lives will somehow change.
Petrov:This whole situation is just a fantastic fatal coincidence, that's it. What are we guilty of?
Boshirov: We'd just like to be left in peace now, just a little peace, so everyone would calm down.
Petrov: At least our media, your colleagues. We know what will happen after this interview, we'll have to...
Boshirov: I don't know what will happen tomorrow.
Petrov: We wouldn't like to (become talk show subjects), we want to hide and sit out this time, we definitely don't need this popularity.
Boshirov: We want them to leave us alone.
Petrov: We have no strength left.
Boshirov: We're tired.
Petrov: If possible, leave us in peace please. We want to appeal to everyone through you, to your colleagues. If someone sees us, because we can't just sit at home, don't take out your mobile phones, friends, I don't know how else to ask, we just want peace. I understand we probably won't return to normal life as soon as we'd like
Boshirov: We're sick of it now.
Reaction to the RT interview
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The lies and blatant fabrications in this interview given to a Russian-state sponsored TV station are an insult to public's intelligence.
"More importantly, the 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 Prime Minister's spokesman added that the police had set out very clearly the evidence against the two suspects.
"They are wanted men and we have taken steps to ensure that they are apprehended and brought to justice in the UK if they ever again set foot outside Russia," the spokesman said.
John Glen, the Conservative MP for Salisbury and South Wiltshire, has called the statements from Petrov and Boshirov "not credible".
Mr Glen wrote on Twitter: "Delighted that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov 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.
"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."
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. (2/2)— John Glen MP (@JohnGlenUK) September 13, 2018
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."