Britain will seek to intensify diplomatic pressure on Vladimir Putin after naming two Russian military intelligence officers it said were ordered to carry out the novichok poisonings attack in Salisbury.
In a special statement to a packed House of Commons, the prime minister, Theresa May, revealed the two suspects who flew into Britain to murder Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March with the military grade nerve agent were officers in the GRU, Russian military intelligence.
“The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state,” she said, apparently pointing the finger at Putin.
The UK will on Thursday appear before the UN security council to lay out the case against Moscow. For six months since the incident in Salisbury, the government has faced criticism over the apparent lack of evidence linking the crime to Russia.
But on Wednesday, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, assistant commissioner Neil Basu, laid out a compelling trail showing how the suspects travelled from Moscow to London and then on to Salisbury, featuring numerous CCTV images and supporting detail.
Basu said the pair, who are charged with conspiracy to murder, entered Britain 48 hours before the assassination attempt travelling on official Russian passports issued in the false names they used. They were named by British police as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, believed to be aliases.
British prosecutors said there was enough evidence to charge the Russian pair with conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal, himself a former GRU officer who sold Russian secrets to Britain before settling in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Police produced CCTV footage of the Russian assassination team during their 50-hour visit to Britain, entering at Gatwick airport at 3pm on Friday 2 March, and smuggling in the novichok poisonings.