Published on 12.10.2018 at 18h54 by AFP
UK-Moscow relations have plunged to a “very low level”, Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said Friday, due to what he claimed was an “aggressive anti-Russian campaign” by the British government.
Yakovenko dismissed claims that the two chief suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal were state intelligence officers operating under aliases.
And at a press conference at his official residence in London, Yakovenko said there was no reason to disbelieve their claims to be simple tourists.
The British investigative group Bellingcat has published what it says are the real identities of both suspects in the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury in March.
After scouring open-source material, it identified the men as officials in the GRU Russian military intelligence agency and gave their real names as Alexander Mishkin and Anatoly Chepiga.
The men claim they are Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, two friends who work in sports nutrition and were visiting Salisbury due to an interest in its cathedral architecture.
Yakovenko claimed Bellingcat has “very close links to the British special services” and was “the tool of the deep establishment to leak certain things”, he said.
Asked to back up his claims, Yakovenko replied: “I cannot present you the evidence. This is some kind of information that we have.”
He claimed Moscow was the victim of an “aggressive anti-Russian campaign” by the British government, a “well-orchestrated campaign” to discredit Russia, supported by UK media.
– Hacking denial –
Yakovenko said the Skripal suspects had officially confirmed their identities in a television interview and denied they were working for the GRU.
“We don’t have any reasons not to trust them,” he explained.
Asked about claims of GRU international computer hacking attempts, including at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, he said: “of course I deny”.
He said Russia was readying to ask “a lot of questions” at the OPCW in the coming days.
Skripal’s daughter Yulia was also poisoned in March. She has recovered and made a televised statement saying she did not wish to avail herself of the Russian embassy’s offers of assistance.
“We want to hear that personally,” Yakovenko said.
“Then we will see if she is under pressure or not. Today, we cannot make this conclusion.”
He added: “I would like to see the end of this story. But how to do it?”