Putin says two Skripal poisoning suspects are 'civilians'

For months, British and US authorities have blamed the Kremlin for the attack, and London said Boshirov and Petrov were Russian intelligence agents.

Putin, speaking at an economic forum in the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok, said Russia had located the two men, but that there was nothing special or criminal about them. "There is nothing unusual or criminal there, I assure you".

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his government knows the identity of the men accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy, and they are not criminals.

When troops in uniforms without insignia first appeared on the streets of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 prior to its annexation, Putin insisted that they were not members of the Russian military, but merely local volunteers.

State television channel Rossiya-24 said it had spoken to Petrov and that he declined to comment on the case for now, saying only that he worked for a pharmaceutical company in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Sergei Skripal's niece Victoria said that Petrov and Boshirov "are shocked by what is happening and are complete bewilderment".

Petrov, according to Russian Federation 24, is an employee of Virion, a pharmaceutical company in the Siberian city of Tomsk that is part of a research and production group called Microgen.

Mr Skripal and Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury in the United Kingdom in March. "Hours after their final visit to Salisbury, they took a late-night flight back to Moscow on March 4 - the same day the Skripals were sickened".

Mr Rowley told police he found the box containing the small bottle and an applicator - all found to be counterfeit - in a charity bin. All three have now been discharged.

Nerve agent attack: What is Novichok? .

Citing the GRU's reputation for strict discipline and hierarchy, May said of the attack on the Skripals, "It was nearly certainly also approved outside the GRU, at a senior level of the Russian state".

Britain last week charged two alleged agents of Russia's military intelligence agency in absentia with the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attack was carried out by officers of the GRU and nearly certainly approved "at a senior level of the Russian state".

The UK has said that it has sufficient evidence to charge the men but will not seek extradition of the suspects and instead will apply for a European arrest warrant.

Vanessa Coleman