Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — the two Russian men accused by British authorities of releasing a nerve agent in the town of Salisbury — have finally come forward and spoken on camera to the media, granting their first interview to Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of the Russian state television network RT. In their interview, Petrov and Boshirov claim their visit to Great Britain was a tourist trip, and they say they turned to RT “for protection.” The televised appearance offered the perfect opportunity for the two men to challenge London’s allegations that they work for Russian military intelligence, giving them a global platform to explain their travels as openly and in as much detail as possible. Instead, Petrov and Boshirov presented a version of events so incoherent and ridiculous that there are more questions now than before — both about their role in the Salisbury attack and about RT’s reporting.
The two men say they went to Salisbury to take in some of the local attractions, particularly the Salisbury Cathedral. On their second visit to the town on March 4, they say they managed to see the cathedral, claiming that they took several photographs while there.
During the interview, Petrov and Boshirov expressed shock that British police haven’t released surveillance footage from cameras near the cathedral (though Scotland Yard hasn’t denied that the two men visited the site), and they refused for some reason to show their own sightseeing photographs that might have supported their claims that they visited the town as tourists. When Simonyan suggested directly that they produce their own photos, Petrov and Boshirov simply ignored her.
Petrov and Boshirov say the main reason for their interview was to prove that they’re just ordinary civilians, but they refused to reveal any details about their personal lives, only fueling further suspicion about their backgrounds. If either man had simply named the company where he works, journalists could verify when it was registered, whether it really operates, and whether it has any connections to the state.
Almost 90 miles separate the London metropolis from the quiet town of Salisbury. In the beginning of their interview, Petrov and Boshirov say they flew to Great Britain to “cut loose.” It turns out that their idea of “loose” involves spending two days of their three-day trip traveling to and from Salisbury — twice. Maybe the two men are (as they claim) truly infatuated with Gothic architecture, but their behavior during the interview doesn’t betray such passion.
The British police say Petrov and Boshirov spent two days in Salisbury: the first for “reconnaissance,” and the second to carry out the attack on Sergey Skripal. In their interview with RT, Petrov and Boshirov say they traveled to the town twice as tourists. On their first visit, on March 3, they got there and found it to be “too slushy” with snow up to their knees, so they returned to London and came back the next day.
Photographs shared on social media by tourists visiting the Salisbury Cathedral on March 3, however, show that many people still crowded the attraction, despite the wet, chilly weather. Here’s one example:
The RT chief editor says Petrov and Boshirov reached out to her directly, requesting that she interview them, apparently calling her mobile phone number. Simonyan claims that “everyone, even the flower couriers,” know her number, but it’s listed nowhere on any of her social-media accounts or on RT’s website. Standard queries for her mobile phone number on Internet search engines also turn up nothing.
By their own admission, Petrov and Boshirov only decided to speak to the media after Vladimir Putin suggested it on Wednesday. “I want to appeal to these men, so they hear us today. Let them come [...] to the mass media,” the president said midday on September 12. Later that same day, the interview with Simonyan was recorded, which means Petrov and Boshirov were able to track down her mobile phone number within a couple of hours.
Update: After this text was published originally in Russian, on the evening of September 13, the first Yandex search results for “Маргарита Симоньян сотовый телефон” (Margarita Simonyan cell phone) started turning up a hyperlink to her listing in Russia’s Unified State Register of Legal Entities, which includes her phone number. An identical query on Google still doesn’t produce this information on the first several pages of search results. Simonyan, meanwhile, also says she hasn’t ruled out that Vladimir Putin provided Petrov and Boshirov with her phone number.
Why do the numbers on their passports differ by just one digit? Why are they so sure that British border guards would have stopped them, if they’d been carrying a bottle of perfume? How have their relatives, friends, acquaintances, and business partners reacted to the scandal surrounding them? Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday, “We of course looked into these people. We know who they are and we found them.” But who exactly found them? Have they been in contact with Russia’s intelligence agencies?
And there are also the banal, but important questions: Where did they study? Who are their parents? What is their background? Despite generating buzz around the world, Simonyan’s interview with Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov adds no substance to what we know about these two men.