Wed. 8:51 a.m.: Britain charges 2 Russians over spy poisoning

This combination photo made available by the Metropolitan Police on Wednesday Sept. 5, 2018, shows Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov. British prosecutors have charged two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. They are charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

LONDON (AP) — British officials announced today that they have charged two alleged Russian military intelligence agents with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury — though they held out little hope of being able to bring them to justice.

The Crown Prosecution Service said the men, who entered the U.K. under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are being charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok.

Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers that British intelligence services have concluded the two men were officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

May said the attack “was not a rogue operation” and was almost certainly approved at a “senior level of the Russian state.”

Russia denies involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal — a former Russian agent who had been convicted in his homeland of spying for Britain — and his daughter.

Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service said the U.K. would not ask Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country’s citizens. Britain has issued domestic and European arrest warrants for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country.

But assistant commissioner Neil Basu, head of counterterrorism at London’s Metropolitan Police, conceded it was “very, very unlikely” police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.

Police say the suspects, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4. Basu said the passports were genuine but the men were probably using aliases, and appealed the public “to come forward and tell us who they are.”

The Skripals were found collapsed on a bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 90 miles (140 kilometers) southwest of London. They spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition and are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection.

British authorities and the international chemical weapons watchdog say the Skripals were exposed to Novichok, a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Britain blames the Russian government for the attack, a claim Moscow denies. The poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names and images of the suspects released by Britain “say nothing to us.”

Zakharova called on Britain to cooperate with Russian law enforcement agencies on the investigation. She has criticized London for turning down Moscow’s request to see the case files.

Police today gave new details about what Basu called “one of the most complex investigations” the force had ever seen.

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