Putin says Skripal poisoning suspects are not criminals

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were formally accused of attempting to murder former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. (Reuters)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Putin says Skripal poisoning suspects are not criminals

  • Putin urged the men to address the media saying there was nothing criminal about them
  • The British government has said Putin is ultimately responsible for the attack

VLADIVOSTOK: 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.
Putin urged the men to address the media saying there was “nothing criminal” about them, as he spoke at an economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok.
“We know who they are, we have found them,” Putin said at the forum attended by Japan’s Shinzo Abe and China’s Xi Jinping.
“They are civilians, of course,” he said, apparently responding to a claim by the British authorities that the two suspects are members of Russia’s military intelligence agency.
“I hope they will turn up themselves and tell about themselves” to journalists, Putin said in comments that hinted they could make a public statement shortly.
“There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We’ll see in the near future.”
British authorities have issued European arrest warrants for Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, two suspected members of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU.
They are accused of trying to kill Russian former spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the Novichok nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, in an attack London believes was sanctioned by the Kremlin.
The president himself had not communicated with the men since they were accused in the case, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Meanwhile, the Russia 24 state television channel played what it said was a call with suspect Petrov, who said he had “so far no comment, maybe later, next week, I think.”
Russian state media has reported that a man named Alexander Petrov worked for a pharmaceuticals company in the Siberian city of Tomsk and has denied any involvement in the case.
Shortly after Putin’s statement, Britain accused Russia of “obsfuscation and lies.”
“We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March, and they have replied with obfuscation and lies,” Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman told reporters.
The British government has said Putin is ultimately responsible for the attack, a claim the Kremlin has furiously denied.
London and its allies expelled dozens of Russian diplomats after the poisoning, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Moscow and plunging relations to a new low.
The Skripals survived the poisoning but a local man, Charlie Rowley, picked up a fake perfume bottle containing Novichok weeks later.
Rowley gave it to his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, who later died.
British prosecutors accuse Petrov and Boshirov of conspiracy to murder Skripal, attempted murder and the use of a banned chemical weapon.
They said they would not formally demand the men’s extradition, as Russia does not extradite its citizens, but have obtained a European Arrest Warrant for the pair.
The case has strong echoes of the poisoning of ex-Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in Britain in 2006.
Britain said Russians Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were behind what it said was a likely Kremlin-backed killing, but the pair have never been tried and Lugovoi has since become a lawmaker in Russia.


Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, in this May 19, 2017 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 min 38 sec ago
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Ecuador attempted to give Assange diplomat post in Russia: document

  • “Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats

QUITO: Ecuador in 2017 gave Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a diplomatic post in Russia but rescinded it after Britain refused to give him diplomatic immunity, according to an Ecuadorean government document seen by Reuters.
The aborted effort suggests Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno had engaged Moscow to resolve the situation of Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy for six years to avoid arrest by British authorities on charges of skipping bail.
The incident was revealed in a letter by Ecuador’s foreign ministry to a legislator who had asked for information about Ecuador’s decision last year to grant Assange citizenship.
Ecuador last Dec. 19 approved a “special designation in favor of Mr. Julian Assange so that he can carry out functions at the Ecuadorean Embassy in Russia,” according to the letter written to opposition legislator Paola Vintimilla.
“Special designation” refers to the Ecuadorean president’s right to name political allies to a fixed number of diplomatic posts even if they are not career diplomats.
But Britain’s Foreign Office in a Dec. 21 note said it did not accept Assange as a diplomat and that it did not “consider that Mr. Assange enjoys any type of privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention,” reads the letter, citing a British diplomatic note.
Ecuador abandoned its decision shortly after, according to the letter.
British authorities have said they will arrest Assange if he leaves the embassy, meaning he would have needed to be recognized as a diplomat in order to travel to Moscow.
Lawyers for Assange in the United States and Britain did not respond to requests for comment. WikiLeaks website did not respond to an email seeking comment. The Ecuadorean foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.
The plan to make Assange an Ecuadorean diplomat was made public last year, but the effort to send him to Moscow has not been previously reported.
US intelligence agencies in 2017 said they believed WikiLeaks was an intermediary used by Russia to publish emails hacked from top Democrats to embarrass 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
US President Donald Trump faces an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win that election. Assange denies receiving the emails from Russia, but has not ruled out having obtained them from a third party. Trump and Russia deny collusion.
The Guardian newspaper on Friday reported that Russian diplomats held secret talks in London to help Assange flee Britain through an operation tentatively scheduled for Christmas Eve, 2017.
The story, which cited unidentified sources, said “details of the plan were sketchy” and that it was aborted because it was deemed too risky.
“The Embassy has never engaged either with Ecuadorian colleagues, or with anyone else, in discussions on any kind of Russia’s participation in ending Mr.Assange’s stay within the diplomatic mission of Ecuador,” Russia’s embassy in London wrote on its web site in a response to The Guardian story.
It was not immediately evident if Ecuadorean officials had any contact with Russia as part of the Assange appointment.
Reuters was unable to obtain comment from Russia’s foreign ministry on Ecuador’s plan to make him a diplomat there.
The letter from Ecuador’s foreign ministry was a summary of 28 documents that were sent to Vintimilla in response to her request.
Among those documents is a Dec. 4 letter from Assange in which he renounced his request for political asylum from Ecuador in preparation to become an Ecuadorean diplomat. The letter, which was seen by Reuters, said he ultimately planned to travel to Ecuador.
Vintimilla, who discussed some of the documents during a Thursday press conference, said Assange should lose his citizenship as a result of that letter.
Assange sought asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questions about allegations of sex crimes, accusations that were later dropped.
Ecuador’s president Moreno has said Assange’s asylum cannot be eternal, but has also been reluctant to abruptly halt it on concerns that Assange’s human rights could be at risk.