Two GRU Officers Wanted by UK: Skripal’s Would-be Assassins

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom today unambiguously pointed the finger at the Russian military intelligence (GRU) for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia Skripal. The prime minister’s statement to the Commons noted that “only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to carry out the attack. Novichok nerve agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1980s under a programme codenamed FOLIANT.”

In addition to the Novichok discovered on and in proximity to the Skripal’s residence, Metropolitan Police said there were three other victims of Novichok poisoning: Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who provided aid to the Skripals in Salisbury, and Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, both of Amesbury.

Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Police © All rights reserved

Rowley found a discarded box of Nina Ricci perfume and bottle, which he must have thought was simply someone’s loss and his good fortune. He gifted the perfume to Sturgess. One can only imagine that Sturgess had a greater exposure to the contents—Novichok—than Rowley. Rowley became ill, while Sturgess died.

Warrants for the Two GRU Officers Issued

The U.K. law enforcement has issued arrest warrants for the two GRU intelligence officers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who entered the U.K. March 2 via Aeroflot flight SU2588 at Gatwick airport. Their arrival is documented by the Metropolitan Police video images of their passing through customs and immigration on that date.

Subsequently, additional surveillance photos have been discovered of the two traveling by the underground and train from London to Salisbury March 3 and 4. A photo of the two, taken March 4 at about noon in proximity of the Skripal residence, was also provided by the Metropolitan Police.

Shortly after applying the poison to the Skripal’s front door, they made their way back to the train station and returned to London. It is believed they discarded the perfume box and bottle, which subsequently discovered by Rowley, on their way to the train station.

As the two GRU officers were heading back to London, Skripal and his daughter were discovered on a park bench outside the Maltings shopping center in Salisbury in critical condition.

Again, a surveillance photo shows the duo arriving at London’s Waterloo Station in late afternoon and then immediately heading, by train, to London’s Heathrow Airport. Boshirov and Petrov departed London via Aeroflot flight SU2585 at 10:30 p.m.

The Terrorism Police of the U.K. provided the above timeline in a two-minute video and requested the public’s input of information should they recognize the two.

Russian PR and Social Media Machine Gins Up

The fact that Russia continues to use its intelligence apparatus to conduct wet operations (operational murders) is something that runs alien to western norms. Indeed, fact that the GRU is attempting to murder a former colleague, Skripal, is so repugnant that those not inured within the geopolitik milieu of Russia (and the Soviet Union) have a hard time fathoming such actions take place.

Since March, the Russian line has been consistent:

  • The U.K. is fabricating and prevaricating with respect to the use of Novichok;
  • The Russian hand in the Skripal’s poisoning is total fiction; and
  • The U.K. wishes to besmirch Russia’s name and create fictions to put pressure on bilateral and multilateral relations with Russia.

Following May’s declaration and the U.K. police posting on social media, pro-Russia entities have let loose various responses.

The U.K.’s Independent reported Russia state TV anchor Artyom Sheinin has urged viewers to ignore the “flimsy photographic evidence” and that the images provided by the U.K. were of “two ordinary citizens.”

Interestingly, the niece of Sergei Skripal, Victoria Skripal, has assumed the Russian voice of the family, and has been quoted as saying that “she had not yet been persuaded by British evidence and she agrees with what they are saying on state TV.” She specifically categorized Petrov and Boshirov as two anonymous Mr. Smiths. She also worked into her statement to the press that the U.K. is imagining the ethnicity of the two individuals.

No doubt the U.K. has the passport images of both Boshirov and Petrov (which this writer assumes are operational aliases) and their Russian passport information. Whether U.K. immigration collected biometric information on the two has not been revealed. If so, then we may learn of their true identities in due time.

Russia Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova was reported by Tass as having said the “names mean nothing to us.” She continued: “Once again we are calling upon the British side to drop public charges and information manipulations and to start practical interaction between law enforcement agencies. London has numerous requests from the Russian side. The investigation of such serious crimes, like those Britain has mentioned so many times, needs painstaking work, scrupulous analysis of all facts and tight interaction.”

On Twitter, the number of retweets and postings that attempt to refute the U.K. declaration or ameliorate the impact by suggesting Russia is and has been standing by to assist in the investigation but have been ignored is plentiful. The path they are taking include:

  • Personal attacks on May
  • Calling into question UK photos surveillance capability
  • Posting rhetorical questions re: Novichok
    • The provenance of the Novichok
    • No one was affected at the hotel where the Russians stayed March 2 and 3
    • False flag allegation

Their intent is not to engage, but to enrage. They can be expected to continue to unfurl their active-measures toolbox and begin the placement of counterarguments and pick away at their critic’s credibility to distract from the real issue at hand: The Russian Federation’s GRU is now accused of conducting wet operations in the United Kingdom, with the consent and direction of Russia’s leadership.

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Christopher Burgess

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former Senior Security Advisor to Cisco and served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit: Senior Online Safety.

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