Update: In her remarks to Parliament about the charges brought against two Russian nationals earlier today, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the two men indicted by British prosecutors are agents of the Russian military intelligence branch GRU, and that the attack was sanctioned by the Russian state. An EU arrest warrant has been issued, she said.
"We were right to say in March that the Russian state is responsible," she said. May added that Russia was engaged in a "pattern of malign activity", and that the UK would be increasing its pressure on the Russian intelligence apparatus, with particular focus on the GRU.
She also added that the UK would press a "new sanctions regime" on Russian chemical weapons. "Russia seeks to undermine our security," May said. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who also spoke, praised the work of investigators who linked the attack to Russia.
Watch the spectacle live below:
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In what appears to be the latest escalation in the UK government's campaign to blame Russia for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia Skripal and three other seemingly random Britons (one of whom succumbed to the deadly Novichok nerve agent used in the attacks), British prosecutors are saying they have "sufficient evidence" to charge Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, both Russian nationals, with conspiracy to murder Skripal, as well as the attempted murder of his daughter and police detective Nick Bailey, according to Reuters.
JUST IN: British prosecutors say they have sufficient evidence to charge two Russian nationals with conspiracy to murder Sergei and Yulia Skripal pic.twitter.com/FLF00bHVs8— Reuters UK (@ReutersUK) September 5, 2018
The news comes nearly two months after investigators said they had identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack by crossing referencing CCTV feeds with records of people who entered the country around that time.
Per the BBC, the Crown Prosecution Service said both men, who were identified by the suspected aliases they used to enter the country, flew in from Moscow two days before the poisoning. Both are also around the age of 40. In a statement released after the charges were announced, a spokesperson for the Russian government said the names "don't mean anything to us." UK Prime Minister is expected to give a statement later today.
Of course, Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning, though Russian officials aren't the only ones who have been skeptical of the UK government's claims. Tory MP and UK Security Minister Ben Wallace declared that "I think this story belongs in the 'ill informed and wild speculation' folder"after investigators said they had identified the suspects. While the Skripals survived the poisoning, Dawn Sturgess, who fell ill around the same time as her boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, eventually died. Police say the latter two victims encountered residue from the Novichok used in the Skripal attack. Bailey, who purportedly encountered the nerve agent during the investigation, eventually recovered.
We imagine Russia will not be pleased if two of its citizen are arrested for a crime considering the serious doubts that have been raised about the evidence. Allies of the UK, including the US, expelled dozens of diplomats following the accusations, which emerged just before Russia hosted the World Cup - an inopportune time to instigate a global diplomatic crisis. While the UK has been content with jumping to conclusions, Russian involvement in the operation would mean they targeted a former MI6 spy, who they released from prison eight years ago, using an ineffective, slow-operating, "military grade" nerve agent, which could be easily traced back to them.
But none of this has deterred the UK so far. However, assuming the men are no longer in the UK, we imagine prosecutors will likely have a difficult time extraditing them to face these charges.