Two Russian men accused by Britain of poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter in England said on Thursday they had been the victims of a "fantastical coincidence" and were simply Russian businessmen on holiday abroad.
British prosecutors last week identified two Russians they said were operating under aliases - Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov - whom they accused of trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in England.
Petrov and Boshirov made their first public appearance in an interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel.
The men said they visited the southern English city of Salisbury in March, calling it a "wonderful town" and saying they wanted to see the famous Salisbury Cathedral.
"Our friends have been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," Petrov said while Boshirov added that they wanted to see the Cathedral's famous spire and clock.
British officials say Boshirov and Petrov are military intelligence agents who were dispatched to Salisbury to poison former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the nerve agent Novichok. Britain released CCTV footage and photographs showing the two men walking in Skripal's neighborhood on March 4, the day of the attack.
The men's surprise public appearance came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian authorities know the identities of the two men, but insisted that they are civilians and there is "nothing criminal" about them. He called on them to contact the media.
Replying to the interviewer's question why they went to Salisbury for two days in a row, Boshirov said that when they first got to the town it was snowy and they got wet so they decided to take the train back.
They said they may have passed by Skripal's house but they did not know him.
Petrov and Boshirov also denied they were military intelligence officers. They said they felt they deserved an apology from the real perpetrators of the poisoning, if they were ever found.
The British government on Thursday issued a statement after the interview was released, reiterating their claim that Russian authorities were lying about the case.
"The government is clear these men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service — the GRU — who used a devastatingly toxic, illegal chemical weapon on the streets of our country," the statement said. "We have repeatedly asked Russia to account for what happened in Salisbury in March. Today — just as we have seen throughout — they have responded with obfuscation and lies."
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