Russia Hoax 2.0: The Erstwhile "Spies" Who Stumbled in From the Cold
On Wednesday at the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in the Russian city of Vladivostok, during a panel event with Japan's Shinzo Abe and China's Xi Jinping the international audience was very surprised when President Vladimir Putin suddenly shared the latest developments in the Skripal poisoning case. "We know who they are, we have found them," Putin told the startled audience, referring to the two men named by UK authorities as suspects.
"They are civilians, of course," he added with a bemused look, explaining that they are not quite the notorious criminals the British politicians were hoping for. He then looked directly into the camera saying,
The British government says the pair launched the chemical attack on the former Russian spy supposedly using a perfume bottle. Authorities claim the men were also caught on CCTV cameras in Salisbury on two occasions, including on the day of the attack, before quickly returning to the Russian capital. Putin's response: "There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you. We'll see in the near future."
What was that all about?
Well, as far as I can tell — and I'm only speculating here — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov find themselves forced into the international spotlight to make an untimely debut as Russia's most famous gay couple. Or, Russia's two most notorious "confirmed bachelors," if you prefer. Or so the innuendos are flying going into the weekend.
Within hours of Putin's wry remarks, RT's formidable Editor-in-Chief, Margarita Simonyan, received a call on her personal cell phone. An hour later she found herself in RT'a conference room facing the two Skripal case suspects, about to begin an impromptu interview. Without the benefit of a pre-interview, the men were nervous and unsure what they were supposed to say. Simonyan had almost no background on them, their education, their work history… so she was flying blind. The interview got off to a wobbly start of prying questions and guarded responses until it was finally revealed that Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were in the health supplements businness and they helped train "clients" who wanted bigger biceps and even traveled to Europe occasionally to do this.
I know. Right? Body builders.
The world has endured months of semi-hysterical British security people going on and on about how they knew “Russia did it.” They insist that Russia poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March. They have every possible resource at their disposal, and just weeks ago the finally found scores of CCTV surveillance photos of the two friends posing at every train stop and tourist attraction between London and Salisbury. And yet UK officials have refused to supply any physical evidence or even a motive to back up their strident accusations.
How bizarre has the British government acted in the Skripal case? The whole idea of Moscow whacking a burned out old spy with a banned bioweapon that would rocket to the front pages around the world on the eve of Vladimir Putin's presidential election is beyond credibility. But the British counter-espionage pros are convinced that a couple of lost schmucks wandering around trying to see how many cameras they could be caught on together is somehow standard tradecraft for a real op involving a deadly neurotoxin. They're doubling down on this like jealous dogs with a prized chewtoy.
Jim W. Dean, Managing Editor at Veterans Today, who scooped this interview (below) and took it to press, remarked that if they had a Russian handler at GNU, he would have strangled both of them when they came for their paychecks, to remove them from the gene pool.
Britain’s boner for Russia is well known and childish, as the Russians would not waste ammo on the British military, reduced to its pitiful, straw-dog bogeyman act to keep its funding up. Moscow will save its ammo for important things, like defending itself, since its defense budget is less than ten percent of NATO’s.
MARGARITA SIMONYAN: You called my cell phone, saying that you were Ruslan Boshirov and Aleksandr Petrov. You’re Aleksandr Petrov, and you’re Ruslan Boshirov. You look like the people from the pictures and videos from the UK. So who are you in reality?
ALEXANDER PETROV: We are the people you saw.
RUSLAN BOSHIROV: I’m Ruslan Boshirov.
PETROV: And I’m Aleksandr Petrov.
SIMONYAN: These are your real names?
BOSHIROV: Yes, they are our real names.
SIMONYAN: But even now, frankly, you look very tense.
PETROV: What would you look like if you were in our shoes?
BOSHIROV: When your whole life is turned upside down all of a sudden, overnight, and torn down.
SIMONYAN: The guys we all saw in those videos from London and Salisbury, wearing those jackets and trainers, it’s you?
PETROV: Yes, it’s us.
SIMONYAN: What were you doing there?
PETROV: Our friends have been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city.
SIMONYAN: Salisbury? A wonderful city?
SIMONYAN: What makes it so wonderful?
BOSHIROV: It’s a tourist city. They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral. It’s famous throughout Europe and, in fact, throughout the world, I think. It’s famous for its 123-metre spire. It’s famous for its clock. It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world.
SIMONYAN: So, you travelled to Salisbury to see the clock?
PETROV: No, initially we planned to go to London and have some fun there. This time, it wasn’t a business trip. Our plan was to spend some time in London and then to visit Salisbury. Of course, we wanted to do it all in one day. But when we got there, our plane couldn’t land on its first approach. That’s because of all the havoc they had with transport in the UK on March 2 and 3. There was heavy snowfall, nearly all the cities were paralyzed. We were unable to go anywhere.
BOSHIROV: It was in all the news. Railroads didn’t work on March 2 and 3. Motorways were closed. Police cars and ambulances blocked off highways. There was no traffic at all – no trains, nothing. Why is it that nobody talks about any of this?
SIMONYAN: OK, I get that. That was your plan. But what did you actually do? You arrived. There was heavy snowfall. No trains, nothing. So, what did you do?
PETROV: We arrived in Salisbury on March 3. We wanted to walk around the city but since the whole city was covered with snow, we spent only 30 minutes there. We were all wet.
BOSHIROV: There are no pictures. The media, television – nobody talks about the fact that the transport system was paralyzed that day. It was impossible to get anywhere because of the snow. We were drenched up to our knees.
SIMONYAN: All right. You went for a walk for 30 minutes, you got wet. What next?
PETROV: We travelled there to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But it didn’t work out because of the slush. The whole city was covered with slush. We got wet, so we went back to the train station and took the first train to go back. We spent about 40 minutes in a coffee shop at the train station.
BOSHIROV: Drinking coffee. A hot drink because we were drenched.
PETROV: Maybe a little over an hour. That’s because of large intervals between trains. I think this was because of the snowfall. We went back to London and continued with our journey.
BOSHIROV: We walked around London…
SIMONYAN: So, you only spent an hour in Salisbury?
PETROV: On March 3? Yes. That’s because it was impossible to get anywhere.
SIMONYAN: What about the next day?
PETROV: On March 4, we went back there, because the snow melted in London, it was warm.
BOSHIROV: It was sunny.
PETROV: And we thought – we really wanted to see Old Sarum and the cathedral. So we decided to give it another try on March 4.
SIMONYAN: So, did you see it?
BOSHIROV: Yes, we did.
PETROV: On March 4, we did. But again, by lunchtime, there was heavy sleet.
BOSHIROV: For some reason, nobody talks about this.
PETROV: So we left early.
BOSHIROV: The cathedral is very beautiful. There are lots of tourists, lots of Russian tourists, lots of Russian-speaking tourists.
SIMONYAN: I assume you took some pictures while at the cathedral?
PETROV: Of course.
BOSHIROV: Sure, we did. We went to a park, we had some coffee. We went to a coffee shop. We walked around, enjoying those beautiful English Gothic buildings.
PETROV: For some reason, they don’t show this. They only show how we went to the train station.
SIMONYAN: So, while you were in Salisbury, did you go anywhere near the Skripals home?
PETROV: Maybe. We don’t know.
BOSHIROV: What about you? Do you know where their house is?
SIMONYAN: I don’t. Do you?
BOSHIROV: We don’t either.
PETROV: I wish somebody told us where it was.
BOSHIROV: Maybe we passed it, or maybe we didn’t. I’d never heard about them before this nightmare started. I’d never heard this name before. I didn’t know anything about them.
SIMONYAN: When you arrived in the UK, when you were in London or in Salisbury, throughout your whole trip, did you have any Novichok or some other poisonous agent or dangerous substance with you?
PETROV: It’s absurd.
SIMONYAN: Did you have that bottle of Nina Ricci perfume which the UK presents as evidence of your alleged crime?
BOSHIROV: Don’t you think that it’s kind of stupid for two straight men to be carrying perfume for ladies? When you go through customs, they check all your belongings. So, if we had anything suspicious, they would definitely have questions. Why would a man have women’s perfume in his bag?
PETROV: Even an ordinary person would have questions. Why would a man need perfume for women?
SIMONYAN: Speaking of you being straight men, all the footage features you two together. You spent time together, you stayed together, you went for a walk together. What do you have in common that you spend so much time together?
BOSHIROV: You know, let’s not breach anyone’s privacy. We came to you for protection, but this is turning into some kind of an interrogation. You are going too far. We came to you for protection. You’re not interrogating us.
SIMONYAN: We are journalists, we don’t protect. We aren’t lawyers. In fact, this was my next question. Why did you decide to go to the media? Your photos were published some time ago together with your names, but you kept silent. But then today you called me, because you want to speak to the media. What’s changed?
BOSHIROV: To ask for protection.
PETROV: You say we kept silent. After, our lives turned into a nightmare, we didn’t know what to do, where to go. The Police? The Investigative Committee? The UK embassy?
BOSHIROV: Or the FSB. We don’t know.
SIMONYAN: Why would you go to the UK embassy?
PETROV: We really didn’t know what to do. Where to go? Hello?
BOSHIROV: You know, when your life is turned upside down, you don’t really understand what to do and where to go. And many say, why don’t they go to the UK embassy and explain everything?
SIMONYAN: And you know what they are saying about you, right?
PETROV: Of course we do.
BOSHIROV: Yes, of course. We can’t go out on the street because we are scared. We’re afraid.
SIMONYAN: What are you afraid of?
BOSHIROV: We fear for our lives. And for the lives of our families and friends.
SIMONYAN: So, you fear that the UK secret service will kill you or what?
BOSHIROV: We just don’t know.
PETROV: Simply read what even the Russian media is writing. They are offering a reward.
SIMONYAN: What do you mean? There’s a bounty on your head?
BOSHIROV: Dmitry Gudkov, if I am not mistaken, promised a trip to the UK for anybody who brings us to him. Do you think that’s okay? And you think we can feel just fine, walking around smiling, talking to people? Any sensible person would be afraid.
SIMONYAN: Vladimir Putin appealed to you today, saying that they have identified you and that you should contact the media. If it hadn’t been for Putin, would you have contacted us?
PETROV: Margarita, you know, probably we would’ve recorded a video and put it on the Web.
SIMONYAN: You would’ve recorded a video and posted it?
PETROV: We don’t have any experience with the media. It would’ve been easier for us to lay it all out online.
BOSHIROV: To ask for protection, for help.
PETROV: Today, we haven’t watched it live, but I heard it on the radio and suggested that we do it.
BOSHIROV: Yes, it gave us an impulse.
PETROV: And so we called you.
SIMONYAN: Do you work for the GRU?
PETROV: And you, do you?
SIMONYAN: Me? No, I don’t, and you?
PETROV: I don’t.
BOSHIROV: Me neither.
SIMONYAN: Well, no one accuses me of working for the GRU, right? It’s different with you two.
BOSHIROV: And these are your colleagues who accuse us.
SIMONYAN: By my colleagues, you mean journalists, right? You are being accused by British law enforcement. They say you work for the GRU.
PETROV: This is the worst.
SIMONYAN: What do you do then? You’re two adults, you must be working somewhere.
PETROV: We are businessmen. We have a medium-sized business.
SIMONYAN: What does that mean?
PETROV: If we tell you about our business…
BOSHIROV: …This will affect the people we work with. We don’t want this to happen.
SIMONYAN: Tell us at least something. Do you want people to believe you or not? For many months, they’ve been trying to make people believe in the opposite of what you say. Some believe you, some don’t. If you say you don’t work for the GRU but you refuse to talk about your business, I have questions, and our audience will have questions too…if you are not GRU, not spies, never poisoned anyone, and you went there simply as tourists. So, what is it you do?
PETROV: Very briefly, we work in the fitness industry. Supplements for athletes, vitamins, minerals, proteins, gainers, and others. If we give you any further details, this may affect our partners and people we know.
SIMONYAN: So, you are in the fitness industry. So, do you consult with people in Europe who want to build muscle?
PETROV: Right. Actually, advice on how to build up your biceps is not as trendy now – body shaping is… so-called “drying out” (dehydration), living healthy and eating proper.
BOSHIROV: Eating properly, healthy lifestyle…
SIMONYAN: So, you help your clients to achieve a beautiful body or work in fitness clubs… You are a coach then.
PETROV: Pretty much yes.
BOSHIROV: We wouldn’t like to go public on this or provide further details about our work and all that. I just don’t want this story to affect our clients, people we work with. I don’t wish to elaborate.
SIMONYAN: Okay. The British say that you have made a lot – if not dozens – of visits to Europe in the last couple of years, Switzerland being named as your primary destination. What business could you have there as fitness coaches and physical trainers?
BOSHIROV: The British say all kinds of things…
SIMONYAN: So you didn’t go to Europe?
BOSHIROV: The hotel room that they show and say we stayed in has a bed for one person only. Meanwhile, right next to it there are double and triple rooms. And it is perfectly normal for tourists to stay together in a double room. It saves money and it’s practical. It’s more fun that way and it’s also easier. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this.
SIMONYAN: There is no need to make any excuses here. Frankly, the world couldn’t care less about that. So, have you been to Europe in the last couple of years?
PETROV: Yes. Mostly on business trips.
SIMONYAN: Which took you mostly to Switzerland?
PETROV: Yes, and once again…
SIMONYAN: So it’s true?
PETROV: No, not mostly to Switzerland…
BOSHIROV: They exaggerate this… the number…
PETROV: If memory serves me well, we had just a couple of trips to Switzerland. We spent some time during the new year holidays there.
SIMONYAN: But what were you doing there? What does it have to do with your business? I know you don’t want to expose your clients, but what does your business have to do with Switzerland?
PETROV: Our trips are not always business-related. We went to Switzerland on holiday. We did have some business trips there as well, but I can’t really remember when it was…
BOSHIROV: It’s perfectly normal to go to Geneva. It’s the shortest route to Montblanc. You can go to France – it’s just a few kilometres away. It’s convenient.
SIMONYAN: So what was it: a business trip or a holiday trip?
PETROV: We had both kinds of trips, business mostly.
SIMONYAN: And what does your business have to do with Europe?
PETROV: It’s about healthy food, products and vitamins that they sell in Europe.
SIMONYAN: So, you purchase food there and then bring it here?
PETROV: It’s not about buying it and bringing it over here in bags. We study the market for new products, including biologically active food supplements, amino acids, vitamins and microelements. Then we come back and decide what we need the most and try to figure out how these new products can be shipped over here. This is an area of our work.
SIMONYAN: Here’s the photo that’s got the whole world puzzled. Gatwick. You’re going through the gate at the same time, even at the same second. How do you explain that?
BOSHIROV: I think it’s for them to explain.
PETROV: How can we explain it?
BOSHIROV: We always go through the gate together. Through the same gate, with the same customs officer. One after another. We walked through that corridor together. We’re always together. As to how it happened — us walking there at the same second and then separately —I think it’s a question that should be put to them.
PETROV: Yeah, on the point of us always going through it together — my English is a bit better, so if any problem crops up, I’m there to help Ruslan out.
SIMONYAN: So you went through together? You didn’t take different corridors?
PETROV: No, we never go through separately.
BOSHIROV: No, never.
SIMONYAN: So what about these photos then? You say it never happened? Or were they doctored?
BOSHIROV: Well, I don’t really know...
PETROV: It’d be a good thing if we could actually remember it.
BOSHIROV: ... how they do these things over there. When you arrive at an airport or leave one, when you go somewhere or other, you never think about the cameras... There’s nothing interesting about them. How they film, or what, or where — I’m not interested in any of that and so I never took any notice. Given that it was them who published these photos with this time stamp on them and all, I think the best thing to do would be to ask them.
SIMONYAN: What are your thoughts on this whole Skripal case? Who poisoned him? You ever thought about it at all?
PETROV: Well, it’s hard to say... As to whether we’re thinking about it...
SIMONYAN: I mean before you saw your photos on TV.
PETROV: We’re living it. I’ll say one thing, though...
BOSHIROV: I think for the time being I’ll...
PETROV: If they ever find the ones who did it, it’d be nice if they at least apologised to us.
SIMONYAN: Who? The poisoners?
PETROV: Even considering the fact...
BOSHIROV: No, the British.
PETROV: Even considering the fact that all this time we — how long have they been going on about it all now? Five days, a week? I’ve lost count of time. I mean, I’m really...
BOSHIROV: You have no idea what it’s done to our lives.
PETROV: Can’t even go and fill up your car in peace....
SIMONYAN: People recognise you that often?
PETROV: Well, we think they do. How else can we feel when they keep showing our photos on TV?
BOSHIROV: Every day. Full-screen. Our two photos.
PETROV: It’s scary.
BOSHIROV: You turn on the radio and it goes ‘Boshirov, Petrov’. You turn on the TV – same thing. What would your life be like under these circumstances? I’m frightened, I’m scared.... I don’t know what to expect tomorrow. That’s why we’ve come to you.
PETROV: I try not to watch any news now. He still does though, and I just ask him sometimes, ‘Well, anything new?’ and I expect to hear ‘no, it’s all the same’ but he goes, ‘Yeah, plenty’ – they keep making it worse and worse. How much longer can it go on?
SIMONYAN: What are you going to do now?
PETROV: No idea. We simply want to be left in peace.
SIMONYAN: Aren’t you now on a travel blacklist? I mean, if you leave Russia you will most likely get arrested.
PETROV: Well, we hope that the situation can be resolved.
BOSHIROV: Yes, we want it to be resolved, for the British side to apologise for all this mess, for the real culprits in the Skripal case to be found, and for our lives to change for the better.
PETROV: The whole situation is some kind of extraordinary coincidence — that’s all. What are we guilty of?
BOSHIROV: We simply would like to be left in peace right now, at least for a little while. We want everybody to calm down.
PETROV: We’re sick and tired of all this.
PETROV: If it is possible, please, everybody leave us alone. That’s all. You’re our way of getting this word out to everybody, including your fellow journalists. Even if somebody recognises our faces (since we can’t simply stay at home, we have to go out in public), dear friends, please, don’t grab your phones. I don’t know what to say…. We simply want some peace. I understand that we won’t return to normal life as soon as we would like to....
BOSHIROV: But we at least don’t want to be pestered right now.
SIMONYAN: Thank you. Thank you for coming here, to RT.
BOSHIROV: Thank you for hearing us out.
PETROV: Thank you very much.
UK prosecutors in early September named two Russians they suspect of poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March, identifying them as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. In the aftermath, Russia slammed Britain as seeking to stir anti-Russian sentiment while making accusations with no substantial evidence to back it.
Upon announcing the suspects, which the UK accuses of being part of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, British authorities issued European arrest warrants. Russia denies any involvement: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had immediately pushed back on the suggestion of a GRU link, saying “Neither Russia’s top leadership nor those with lower ranks, and [Russian] officials, have had anything to do with the events in Salisbury.”
In the latest salvo meant to convince Mueller that Trump is not a pawn of the Kremlin, a State Dept official said on Thursday that the US plans a second round of "very severe" sanctions on Russia over the use of nerve agent. The stated reason: Russia has not allowed on-site chemical weapons inspections, nor has it provided reassurance that it won’t use nerve agents against its own people, says Manisha Singh, Asst. Sec. for bureau of economic and business affairs
The sanctions will kick in some time in November, presumably just after the November midterms, if Moscow does not take steps in the wake of the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh said on Thursday.
While US sanctions on Russia are hardly new, what is surprising this time is that the new round will include not only defense procurement and aid, but also target the country's increasingly unstable banking sector. Sing: "It’s going to include banking sanctions, prohibition on procurement of defense articles, aid money -- it’s a laundry list of items that will penalize the Russian government."