Vladimir Putin: 'nothing criminal' about novichok suspects

Russian journalists being refused at the London hotel where the two novichok suspects stayed

United Kingdom authorities have named the men as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, thought to be officers of Russia's military intelligence service, the GRU.

Theresa May told parliament earlier this month that the attack "was nearly certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state".

"I would like to call on them so that they can hear us today", he said. There is nothing special or criminal there.

Putin called on the two men to appear in media to protest their innocence, saying he "wanted to address them directly". "They will come somewhere, to you, the mass media".

Hours after Putin spoke, Russian state TV said one of the two men, Petrov, had told it by phone that he might comment on the case next week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the president has not communicated with the men themselves since they were accused of poisoning the Skripals.

"These men are officers of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU. It will be better for everyone", he told reporters on the sidelines of the economic summit. "I can see nothing to suggest that has changed".

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"They are civilians, of course", he said, apparently responding to a claim by the British authorities that the two suspects are members of Russia's military intelligence agency.

If they do so, it would not be the first time accused Russian assassins have answered global allegations through the Russian media. "Let's wait for that moment", Peskov told reporters.

Putin asked the men to go public. "Maybe later. Next week, I think", he said.

He accused Britain of attempting "to unleash a disgusting anti-Russian hysteria".

Mr Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in the city of Salisbury on March 4th. The Brits have leveled charges against them, while not having much in the way of expectations that they'll ever get their hands on them.

Moscow has vehemently denied it is responsible for the poisoning. The affair worsened Russian relations with the West, already under strain over Ukraine, Syria and other issues.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the plenary session titled "The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities" as part of the 2018 Eastern Economic Forum at the Far Eastern Federal University on Russky Island in Vladivostok, Sept. 12, 2018.

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