The same day the US announced it plans a second round of "very severe" sanctions on Russia over the use of a nerve agent in connection to the West's allegations surrounding the Skripal poisoning, the alleged perpetrators of the poison attack have appeared on RT News for an exclusive interview with RT's Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan.
Suffice it to say the whole strange Skripal saga just got a lot more bizarre. The pair told Simonyan in the televised interview that they had nothing to do with it, but were very excited to visit the famous Salisbury cathedral as mere sightseers and were in the Salisbury town briefly on two consecutive days, but that they are not GRU agents or Russian spies.
"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," they said, and explained that after the short visit, their "whole lives were turned upside down" as they suddenly became "framed tourists" caught up in the Skripal cause after being falsely accused by UK authorities.
The pair sat stone-faced throughout the interview and delivered brief, concise answers to RT's questions, while consistently claiming to have been visiting Britain as tourists, but while also acknowledging it was indeed them that appeared in CCTV footage published by the UK authorities.
“Salisbury? A wonderful town?” RT's Margarita Simonyan asked. “Yes,” Petrov answered tersely. “It is a tourist town,” Boshirov offered. “There’s a famous cathedral there... It is famous not just in Europe, but in the whole world. It’s famous for its 123-metre spire, it’s famous for its clock, the first one [of its kind] ever created in the world, which is still working.”
Upon the start of the interview wherein the two confirm their true identities as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to RT's Simonyan, the interview proceeds:
SIMONYAN: The guys we all saw in those videos from London and Salisbury, wearing those jackets and trainers, it's you?
PETROV: Yes, it’s us.
SIMONYAN: What were you doing there?
PETROV: Our friends have been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city.
SIMONYAN: Salisbury? A wonderful city?
SIMONYAN: What makes it so wonderful?
BOSHIROV: It’s a tourist city. They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral. It’s famous throughout Europe and, in fact, throughout the world, I think. It’s famous for its 123-meter spire. It’s famous for its clock. It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world.
Petrov then explains that the pair planned to visit famous tourist sites in London and in and around Salisbury, but parts of their trip were cut short because of heavy snowfall and inclement weather.
The pair say they only spent three days total in England, due their decision to cut it short, but were in Salisbury for some of that time, on two consecutive days:
SIMONYAN: So, you travelled to Salisbury to see the clock?
PETROV: No, initially we planned to go to London and have some fun there. This time, it wasn’t a business trip. Our plan was to spend some time in London and then to visit Salisbury. Of course, we wanted to do it all in one day. But when we got there, our plane couldn't land on its first approach. That’s because of all the havoc they had with transport in the UK on March 2 and 3. There was heavy snowfall, nearly all the cities were paralyzed. We were unable to go anywhere.
BOSHIROV: It was in all the news. Railroads didn't work on March 2 and 3. Motorways were closed. Police cars and ambulances blocked off highways. There was no traffic at all – no trains, nothing. Why is it that nobody talks about any of this?
SIMONYAN: Can you give a time line? Minute-by-minute, or at least hour-by-hour, or as much as you can remember. You arrived in the UK – like you said, to have some fun and to see the cathedral, to see some clock in Salisbury. Can you tell us what you did in the UK? You spent two days there, right?
PETROV: Actually, three.
SIMONYAN: OK, three. What did you do for those three days?
PETROV: We arrived on March 2. We went to the train station to check the schedule, to see where we could go.
BOSHIROV: The initial plan was to go there for a day. Just take a look and return the same day.
PETROV: To Salisbury, that is. One day in Salisbury is enough. There’s not much you can do there.
BOSHIROV: It’s a regular city. A regular tourist city.
SIMONYAN: OK, I get that. That was your plan. But what did you actually do? You arrived. There was heavy snowfall. No trains, nothing. So, what did you do?
PETROV: No, we arrived in Salisbury on March 3. We wanted to walk around the city but since the whole city was covered with snow, we spent only 30 minutes there. We were all wet.
In comments that will likely be able to be easily proven or disproven, he followed with: "There are no pictures. The media, television – nobody talks about the fact that the transport system was paralyzed that day. It was impossible to get anywhere because of the snow. We were drenched up to our knees."
In Salisbury, Petrov continued, the two intended "to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But it didn’t work out because of the slush." But they blame the harsh conditions for quickly canceling their plans and "transport collapse", and they returned the train station after their initial arrival in the town via train from London.
SIMONYAN: All right. You went for a walk for 30 minutes, you got wet. What next?
PETROV: We travelled there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But it didn’t work out because of the slush. The whole city was covered with slush. We got wet, so we went back to the train station and took the first train to go back. We spent about 40 minutes in a coffee shop at the train station.
BOSHIROV: Drinking coffee. A hot drink because we were drenched.
PETROV: Maybe a little over an hour. That’s because of large intervals between trains. I think this was because of the snowfall. We went back to London and continued with our journey.
BOSHIROV: We walked around London…
SIMONYAN: So, you only spent an hour in Salisbury?
PETROV: On March 3? Yes. That’s because it was impossible to get anywhere.
SIMONYAN: What about the next day?
PETROV: On March 4, we went back there, because the snow melted in London, it was warm.
BOSHIROV: It was sunny.
PETROV: And we thought – we really wanted to see Old Sarum and the cathedral. So we decided to give it another try on March 4.
SIMONYAN: Another try to do what?
PETROV: To go sightseeing.
BOSHIROV: To see this famous cathedral. To visit Old Sarum.
SIMONYAN: So, did you see it?
BOSHIROV: Yes, we did.
PETROV: On March 4, we did. But again, by lunchtime, there was heavy sleet.
BOSHIROV: For some reason, nobody talks about this.
PETROV: So we left early.
In total, the pair say they spent only an hour on their first day in Salisbury "because it was impossible to get anywhere," before taking a train back to London. The men say this all happened on March 3rd, the day before the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK's intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, in the same town.
However, they say they returned to sightsee in Salisbury the next day, March 4, on the day of the Skripal attack.
And continuing, RT's Simonyan asked them to divulge proof that they took photographs of the sites. The pair agreed they would provide their tourist photographs to the media as proof of their story.
SIMONYAN: Is it beautiful?
BOSHIROV: The cathedral is very beautiful. There are lots of tourists, lots of Russian tourists, lots of Russian-speaking tourists.
PETROV: By the way, they should have a lot of pictures from the cathedral.
SIMONYAN: Your pictures, you mean?
PETROV: They should show them.
SIMONYAN: I assume you took some pictures while at the cathedral?
PETROV: Of course.
BOSHIROV: Sure, we did. We went to a park, we had some coffee. We went to a coffee shop. We walked around, enjoying those beautiful English Gothic buildings.
PETROV: For some reason, they don’t show this. They only show how we went to the train station.
SIMONYAN: If you give us your pictures, we can show them. So, while you were in Salisbury, did you go anywhere near the Skripals home?
PETROV: Maybe. We don’t know.
BOSHIROV: What about you? Do you know where their house is?
SIMONYAN: I don’t. Do you?
BOSHIROV: We don't either.
PETROV: I wish somebody told us where it was.
And Boshirov added after the series of questions concerning the Skripal residence: "Maybe we passed it, or maybe we didn’t. I’d never heard about them before this nightmare started. I’d never heard this name before. I didn’t know anything about them."
On the issue of the alleged "perfume bottle" the UK police claim to have identified as used for delivery of the nerve agent, the two accused men said the prospect is "absurd".
SIMONYAN: When you arrived in the UK, when you were in London or in Salisbury, throughout your whole trip, did you have any Novichok or some other poisonous agent or dangerous substance with you?
PETROV: It’s absurd.
SIMONYAN: Did you have that bottle of Nina Ricci perfume which the UK presents as evidence of your alleged crime?
BOSHIROV: Don’t you think that it’s kind of stupid for two straight men to be carrying perfume for ladies? When you go through customs, they check all your belongings. So, if we had anything suspicious, they would definitely have questions. Why would a man have women's perfume in his bag?
PETROV: Even an ordinary person would have questions. Why would a man need perfume for women?
And on the issue of the widely circulated and somewhat mysterious (considering the same exact time stamp for each) security camera photographs at Gatwick airport...
SIMONYAN: Right. Here’s the photo that’s got the whole world puzzled. Gatwick. You’re going through the gate at the same time, even at the same second. How do you explain that?
BOSHIROV: I think it’s for them to explain.
PETROV: How can we explain it?
CCTV images of Petrov and Boshirov at Gatwick airport on 2 March 2018.
BOSHIROV: We always go through the gate together. Through the same gate, with the same customs officer. One after another. We walked through that corridor together. We’re always together. As to how it happened – us walking there at the same second and then separately – I think it’s a question that should be put to them.
PETROV: Yeah, on the point of us always going through it together – my English is a bit better, so if any problem crops up, I’m there to help Ruslan out.
SIMONYAN: So you went through together? You didn’t take different corridors?
PETROV: No, we never go through separately.
BOSHIROV: No, never.
SIMONYAN: So what about these photos then? You say it never happened? Or were they doctored?
BOSHIROV: Well, I don’t really know…
PETROV: It’d be a good thing if we could actually remember it…
BOSHIROV: … how they do these things over there. When you arrive at an airport, or leave one, when you go somewhere or other, you never think about the cameras… There’s nothing interesting about them. How they film, or what, or where – I’m not interested in any of that and so I never took any notice. Given that it was them who published these photos with this time on them and all, I think the best thing to do would be to ask them.
Near the end of the interview, the two men explicitly denied working for GRU and demanded a formal apology from the UK government over the whole gambit of accusations.
But when pressed further about how they know each other and their past, said they preferred not give too many public details about their lives, but explained they worked as part of a fitness nutrition supplements business.