Updated at 10:39 a.m. ET
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his government has identified the two men whom U.K. police recently accused of poisoning former spy Sergei Skripal. He said the pair are private citizens, not Russian agents, and urged them to speak out.
“I call on them to appear before the media and tell their story,” Putin said, according to Russia’s embassy in the U.K. Putin spoke Wednesday in Vladivostok, Russia, where he is holding an economic summit with other leaders.
“Of course, we’ve looked into who these people are. We know who they are already, we’ve found them,” the president said, according to The Moscow Times. Of his call for the men to speak publicly, Putin said, “It will be better for everyone. There is nothing special or criminal there. … They’re civilians, of course.”
The comments came one week after U.K. authorities charged two Russian men with using Novichok nerve agent to poison former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Scotland Yard released photos of the two men, who flew from the U.K. to Moscow hours after the Skripals fell ill.
British police released a batch of photos of the the men it identified as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — names that investigators said likely were aliases used for the operation.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Petrov and Boshirov “are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.”
Citing the GRU’s reputation for strict discipline and hierarchy, May said of the attack on the Skripals, “It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU, at a senior level of the Russian state.”
U.K. authorities have said the men arrived in the U.K. from Moscow on March 2.
As NPR has reported: “Over the course of two days, the men traveled from London to Salisbury, England, twice — once to perform reconnaissance around the Skripals’ home, and again to put lethal poison on their front door, police say. The men were spotted on numerous security and surveillance cameras as they moved between the two cities. Hours after their final visit to Salisbury, they took a late-night flight back to Moscow on March 4 — the same day the Skripals were sickened.”
Both Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived, along with a police officer named Nick Bailey.
The same exotic poison was also blamed for the death of Dawn Sturgess, 44, who seems to have come into contact with Novichok in July. Sturgess’s boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, also fell ill.
Putin and Russia have vehemently denied having anything to do with the poisoning cases. Shortly after the Skripals were attacked, Putin replied to a question about the incident, saying, “Russia does not have such chemical agents.”
Putin also said at the time that if the poison used were really a chemical warfare agent, death would have been instantaneous.