President Vladimir Putin addressed the Skripal case during comments made before an audience at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in the Russian city of Vladivostok, and to the audience's great surprise, he said "we have found them".
He said during the Wednesday comments that Moscow knows exactly who the men named by UK authorities as suspects are, saying they are not some kind of notorious criminals but mere civilians. Putin at one point seemed make a direct appeal to the suspects: "I want to address them [the suspects]... [I hope] they contact the media. I hope they appear and tell everything about themselves," he said before the audience.
UK prosecutors in early September named two Russians they suspect of poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March, identifying them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. In the aftermath Russia slammed Britain as seeking to stir anti-Russian sentiment while making accusations with no substantial evidence to back it.
Upon announcing the suspects, which the UK accuses of being part of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, British authorities issued European arrest warrants. Russia denies any involvement: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had immediately pushed back on the suggestion of a GRU link, saying “Neither Russia’s top leadership nor those with lower ranks, and [Russian] officials, have had anything to do with the events in Salisbury.”
But Putin shocked with this bombshell on Wednesday: "We know who they are, we have found them," he said during the EFF panel event with Japan's Shinzo Abe and China's Xi Jinping, according to the AFP.
And in what appears a reference to Britain's charge that the suspects are actually members of Russian intelligence, Putin said, "They are civilians, of course."
Hinting that the men might appear to make a public statement from Russia, Putin said, "I hope they will turn up themselves and tell about themselves," and added, "There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future."
The British government says the pair launched the chemical attack on the former Russian spy supposedly using a perfume bottle. Authorities claim the men were also caught on CCTV cameras in Salisbury twice, including on the day of the attack, before quickly returning to the Russian capital.
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.
After CCTV images released by Scotland yard a week ago, a number of observers were quick to question how Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Borishov could both occupy exactly the same space at Gatwick airport at precisely the same second, according to the time shots on the published CCTV footage: 16.22.43 on 2 March 2018.
As we also discussed, neither photo shows the other following less than a second behind.
There seems no possible physical explanation for this. You can see ten yards behind each of them, and neither has anybody behind for at least ten yards. Yet they were both photographed in the same spot at the same second.
It will be interesting to see, per Putin's suggestion, whether the men actually appear before cameras in Moscow to defend themselves and attempt to explain their actions and travels inside Britain when the alleged attack went down.