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.


Nigerian military struggles against Daesh in West Africa

Updated 33 min 6 sec ago
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Nigerian military struggles against Daesh in West Africa

  • The fatigued, ill-equipped government troops have reached breaking point
  • Daesh killed 48 soldiers at a military base and, in a separate attack, left 32 dead in Gudumbali

ABUJA: Extremists militants have killed hundreds of soldiers in attacks in northeastern Nigeria in recent weeks, security and military sources say, forcing a turnaround in the course of an insurgency which the government has frequently claimed to have vanquished.
The fatigued, ill-equipped government troops have reached breaking point, they said.
The setback in the war against Daesh in West Africa (ISWA) and the Boko Haram insurgency from which it split in 2016 comes as President Muhammadu Buhari seeks a second term in elections next February.
Buhari came to power in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram, and security has once again emerged as a main campaign issue.
In the past three weeks, according to military and security sources, ISWA killed 48 soldiers at a military base and, in a separate attack, left 32 dead in Gudumbali — a town to which thousands of refugees were ordered to return in June.
“The situation in the northeast is deteriorating,” said one security source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They are running out of weapons, ammo and basic equipment. They are exhausted.”
Now, ISWA is winning almost all its battles with the military, security sources said.
That marks a contrast with the situation in early 2015 when the Nigerian army, backed by troops from neighboring countries, pushed Boko Haram off a swathe of land that the insurgents controlled.
Before the insurgency, Nigeria’s northeast, sitting in the arid Sahel that skirts the Sahara’s southern border, had for centuries been a hub of cross-continental trade through the desert and one of the country’s agricultural breadbaskets.
ISWA’s influence extends from the Lake Chad region, including in Niger and Chad itself, and stretches about 100 miles into the Nigerian states of Borno and Yobe, where government has in many areas all but vanished after a decade of conflict. It was not immediately clear how control of that territory has changed in recent months.
Military denies
A military spokesman denied the army was losing most of its clashes with ISWA.
“It’s not true,” said Brig. Gen. John Agim, adding that no soldiers had died at Gudumbali.
Agim declined to show battle reports or comment on the rest of the situation, other than saying the military did not have enough equipment.
In one of the army’s biggest defeats since Buhari came to power, an ISWA attack on a base in July killed at least 100 soldiers, according to people familiar with the matter. Many of the dead were interred in a mass burial, two sources said.
Other gruelling battles have been fought — at least 45 soldiers killed in Gajiram in June, scores dead and missing after a convoy ambush in Boboshe in July, and 17 killed in Garunda in August. These are just some of the recent attacks, according to military and security personnel, that are taking a heavy toll on the military.
With each victory, ISWA gets stronger, collecting weapons, ammunition and vehicles abandoned by fleeing troops. Its tactics have also improved, using trucks mounted with heavy guns to pin down ill-equipped troops, as well as suicide-bombing vehicles.
“Sitting ducks“
“The military are a bit like sitting ducks, waiting for a very mobile and versatile enemy to strike at a weak point or another,” said Vincent Foucher, who studies Boko Haram at the French National Center for Science Research.
The military has kept details of its most recent challenges and defeats close, rarely acknowledging them or any loss of life, say security sources who have sought briefings.
Buhari’s administration and the military continue to issue statements about victories against an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate that dates back to 2009. Normality is returning to the northeast, it says.
“The country has been stable for the past three years,” Defense Minister Mansur Dan Ali told Reuters last month.
However, the minister, discussing the Jilli attack, acknowledged that a strong and well-equipped insurgent force was capable of wiping out as many as 200 soldiers.
“A crisis morale“
Soldiers have become terrified of the insurgents, afraid to leave their bases, said a security source and a diplomat. While hundreds have died recently, hundreds more have deserted.
One retired general, speaking on condition of anonymity, described “a crisis of morale,” linking the frequent allegations of human rights abuses — rape, torture, shake-downs and extra-judicial killing — to broken spirits.
The Nigerian military denies such accusations, though it set up a panel last year to probe allegations. Its findings have not been made public.
Last month, Nigerian special forces mutinied at an airport, refusing to be deployed after learning that after years in the northeast they were being rotated to another, more dangerous part of the region.
“Many of our troops have been in the theater for over two years,” said one captain. “They don’t know how their families, their wives and children, are.”
Some soldiers said though they do get a few days of leave, it is often barely enough time to go from the field to their families before they must return.
Others said their wages and rations are often embezzled by their commanders, there is too little equipment, and many vehicles are broken and gathering rust. One said his men had to buy blankets from refugees for 300 naira ($1) each to keep warm.
The United States, Britain and France support the military, mostly through training and information-sharing, but it has struggled to secure arms supplies due to human rights concerns.
The United States and Nigeria this year finalized a $500-million deal for 12 Super Tucano fighter planes. British Prime Minizer Theresa May, on a visit to Nigeria last month, promised to increase military support in the war against the extremists.