Putin says Salisbury suspects are civilians, not criminals

Russian journalists being refused at the London hotel where the two novichok suspects stayed

Russian journalists being refused at the London hotel where the two novichok suspects stayed

Russia's Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that two men Britain suspects of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal with military-grade nerve agent had been identified as "civilians" and were not criminals.

"We know who they are, we have found them", Putin said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was carried out by officers of the GRU and nearly certainly approved "at a senior level of the Russian state".

He appeared to be implying that they were not the people who carried out the poisoning. We know who they are, we have found them already.

He said that there was "nothing criminal" about the two men and that he hoped they would come forward and tell their own story, adding: "That would be better for everybody".

He added: 'There is nothing special and nothing criminal about it, I'm telling you'. "We'll see in the near future".

"I would like to appeal to them so that they hear us today".

British police said the suspects, both about 40-years old, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned.

Putin gave no indication that Russian Federation would help Britain pursue the suspects, and his poker-faced remarks appeared to indicate that it would not.

In a statement that deepened the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, the Prime Minister said: 'The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command.

Reacting to Mr Putin's assertion that the spies were civilians, Theresa May's spokesman said Russian Federation has continually replied to requests for an account of what happened in Salisbury with "obfuscation and lies" and he could see "nothing to suggest that has changed".

Russian Federation has consistently denied any role in either incident.

The President himself had not communicated with the men since they were accused in the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "These are civilians", Putin said in remarks reported by Russian news agencies.

They believe the men smeared the highly toxic chemical Novichok on a door handle at the Wiltshire home of Mr Skripal.

Following the latest revelations, France, Germany, Canada and the United States endorsed Britain's assessment that Russian military officers were involved and urged Russia to provide "full disclosure" of its Novichok nerve-agent program.

Photographs showing Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, two men accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal.

They spent weeks in hospital before being discharged.

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