By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Friday it expects Britain to say what it knows about the identity of the two suspects in the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy so that Russian officials can launch an investigation.
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the allegations made by British-based investigative group Bellingcat and others can’t serve as a basis for such an inquiry, adding that Russia expects Britain to produce official information.
Britain charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov with trying to kill ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the March 4 attack in Salisbury, but a resident of a nearby England town later died after apparently having contact with the poison.
Britain has said the attack received approval “at a senior level of the Russian state,” an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
Bellingcat said the man identified as Boshirov is in fact Col. Anatoly Chepiga of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU who was awarded Russia’s highest medal in 2014. But beyond a photo from Chepiga’s 2003 passport file resembling Boshirov, the report didn’t contain further proof that Boshirov and Chepiga are the same person.
On Thursday, Russian business daily Kommersant reported that some residents in Beryozovka, a small village in Russia’s far east near the border with China where Chepiga’s family once lived, confirmed that they recognized Chepiga as the man identified as Boshirov. The newspaper said they spoke on condition of anonymity fearing official reprisals.
Peskov scoffed at the claim that in a passport file found by Bellingcat, Chepiga closely resembles Boshirov, pointing at lookalikes of Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin hunting for tourists eager to pay for a shot on Red Square.
“We have 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins on Red Square, and all of them closely resemble the real ones,” he snapped.
Asked if the Kremlin could confirm that Chepiga received the Hero of Russia medal, Peskov responded that he has checked and found no information about such a person receiving the award.
He said in a conference call with reporters that the Kremlin gave little credibility to investigative reports and media articles on the case, adding that “we don’t know how reliable and well-founded they are.”
“We can’t have media as our vis-a-vis in such a sensitive case,” Peskov said. “Such materials should only come from competent sources. From the very start, Russia has offered to conduct a joint investigation but faced British refusals.”