LONDON - Britain deepened its diplomatic feud with Moscow on Wednesday, charging two men it says are Russian military intelligence officers with the nerve-agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a double agent who betrayed the service by spying for the West.
But U.K. authorities acknowledged there was little chance Russia would hand over the suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, to face justice in Britain.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the use of a chemical weapon in the city of Salisbury, which left a British woman dead and four people, including Skripal and his daughter, seriously ill, was carried out by officers of the GRU intelligence service and almost certainly approved “at a senior level of the Russian state.”
“This was not a rogue operation,” she told lawmakers after police released photos of the suspects as they traveled through London and Salisbury before flying back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were poisoned.
Moscow strongly denies involvement in the attack, and Russian officials said they did not recognize the suspects.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the names and images of Petrov and Boshirov “say nothing to us.”
British prosecutors said the two were being charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok.
Sue Hemming of the Crown Prosecution Service said the U.K. wouldn’t ask Moscow to hand the men over because Russian law forbids extradition of its citizens. Britain has obtained domestic and European arrest warrants for the suspects, meaning they can be detained if they leave Russia for another European country.
Neil Basu, Britain’s top police counterterrorism officer, conceded it was “very, very unlikely” police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.
But, he said, “we will never give up.”