Salisbury novichok attack: 'If you ever leave Russia, we will get you,' Sajid Javid tells assassins

'We will probably never see them in the UK,' home secretary admits

Lizzie Dearden
Sunday 09 September 2018 10:21 BST
Sajid Javid: ‘Russia has no extradition treaty'

Sajid Javid has vowed that Britain and its allies will catch the two men accused of launching the Salisbury novichok attack if they ever leave Russia again, but admitted the scenario is unlikely.

“If they ever step out of the Russian Federation, Britain and its allies will get them and we will bring them to prosecution,” the home secretary said.

European Arrest Warrants and Interpol red notices have been issued for two men travelling under Russian passports in the names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

The men fled back to Moscow on the day they allegedly poisoned Sergei Skripal, and will only be caught if they stray into a country allied with Britain and are recognised.

Mr Javid admitted that “we will probably never see them in the UK”. He added: “The Russians will probably never let them leave the Russian Federation.”

Police believe the names are aliases and are appealing for information from the public, but security services identified them as members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.

Flight records showed the suspects have travelled extensively around Europe from when the passports were issued in September 2016, to locations including Geneva, Paris, Amsterdam and Milan.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Javid said the GRU was “getting its instruction directly from the highest level of the Russian government” but stopped short of personally attributing the attack to Vladimir Putin.

(Metropolitan Police)

“We now know unequivocally, crystal clear, that this was the act of the Russian state – two Russian nationals sent to Britain with the sole purpose of carrying out a reckless assassination attempt,” he added.

“They had officially issued Russian passports, which shows you the Russian state is involved in many levels.”

The suspects flew into London from Moscow on 2 March, allegedly carried out reconnaissance in Salisbury the following day and then launched the attack.

Investigators caught the pair on CCTV near Sergei Skripal’s house at the time when novichok was spread on his front door, causing him and his daughter to fall critically ill hours later.

They may have used the same counterfeit perfume bottle containing novichok that later poisoned Charlie Rowley and killed Dawn Sturgess.

Police found traces of novichok in the London hotel room used by the two suspects before they left Britain on a Moscow-bound flight on the evening of 4 March.

Prosecutors have charged the two suspects with conspiracy to murder Mr Skripal, attempted murder, using novichok and other offences, but have not sought an extradition warrant from Russia because its constitution forbids handing over criminals to other countries.

Mr Javid condemned the country’s government for being “against the international rules-based system”, citing its annexation of Crimea, involvement in the Ukrainian civil war, support for Bashar al-Assad and chemical weapons attacks, and an “interference programme”.

“We have considerable powers and we will bring all those powers, both covert and overt, to bear on Russia and what it represents today,” the home secretary said.

The head of GCHQ has threatened to “deploy the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus” to target the GRU.

Theresa May vowed that Britain will wage an international campaign to disrupt “malign Russian activity” and dismantle spy networks.

The prime minister also signalled new sanctions against Russia, with government insiders suggesting key GRU figures could be targeted with travel bans and asset freezes.

British and Russian officials attacked each other at an intense UN Security Council meeting held over the Salisbury attack on Thursday, where the UK accused the Kremlin of “playing dice with the lives of the people of Salisbury” and demanded accountability.

The Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, responded by angrily accusing the UK and its allies of spreading “repeated lies” about Russia’s development of novichok, and called the case Petrov and Boshirov an “unfounded and mendacious cocktail of facts”.

Mr Nebenzya claimed the investigation was motivated by “Russophobia” and intended “to unleash disgusting anti-Russian hysteria”.

Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal (Rex)

Earlier this year, the national security adviser revealed that Russia had been spying on Sergei and Yulia Skripal for at least five years before the attempted assassination.

Mr Skripal served in the GRU for more than a decade before passing secrets to MI6 that unmasked undercover Russian spies in Europe.

He was sentenced to 13 years in prison for treason by espionage in 2006, but was freed four years later as part of a high-profile spy-swap and flown to Britain.

It was assumed that Mr Skripal would be given a new identity and secret home, but he lived an apparently quiet life under his real name in Salisbury.

Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of UK counterterror policing, previously said the situation mirrored the Alexander Litvinenko case and there was only a “small possibility that these people will come to justice”.

British investigators identified Andrey Lugovoy as the chief suspect for poisoning the former FSB agent, who had been granted asylum in the UK, after he left a trail of radioactive polonium right up to the plane he boarded back to Russia.

He has never been prosecuted and Russia refused an extradition request from the UK under its constitution.

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