That was when a former Russian double agent and his daughter were stricken by a military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, that nearly killed them.
In Thursday’s interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel, the suspects, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said they were simply tourists catching the sights in Salisbury about the same time as the attack.
Their detailed description of Salisbury’s medieval cathedral and its tall spire was part of the latest in a series of zigs, zags and twists from Russia since Britain last week pointed the finger at the pair in the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Earlier this week, Putin appeared to make an abrupt U-turn from his government’s previous assertion that the men were unknown to the Kremlin. Putin, speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Far East, described Petrov and Boshirov as regular citizens and definitely not “criminals.”
On Thursday, it was Petrov and Boshirov’s turn. In a 25-minute interview, they denied working for the Russian military intelligence service, saying they are in the fitness industry.
They acknowledged that they went to Salisbury twice. But they claimed they cut short both trips because of the snow and slush on the streets.
“We were drenched up to our knees,” Boshirov said.
Photos released by Scotland Yard show the pair walking on a largely clear sidewalk, with a light dusting of snow, a day after a bigger snowstorm. The pair were also picked up by surveillance video in the vicinity of the Skripal house on the day of the attack, March 4.
“Perhaps we did pass by Skripal’s house, but we don’t know where it is,” Boshirov said.
When asked if they were carrying Novichok with them, both Petrov and Boshirov laughed it off.
“Don’t you think it’s silly for straight men to have women’s perfume with them?” Boshirov said, referring to the Nina Ricci vial that British authorities said contained the poison.
The RT interview went on: “Speaking of straight men, all footage features you two together. You spent time together, you lived together, you went for a walk together. What do you have in common that you spend so much time together?”
Boshirov: “You know, let’s not breach anyone’s privacy. We came to you for protection, but this is turning into some kind of interrogation. We are going too far. We came to you for protection. You’re not interrogating us.”
They appear somewhat uncomfortable in the interview. They often sighed in frustration and repeatedly gave extended, glaring looks.
After the interview was aired, the British government reiterated its assertion that Russian authorities were lying.
Some in Russia believed the men’s appearance on RT had been staged. “The interview with Petrov and Boshirov had already been set, otherwise [Putin] wouldn’t have spoken about them,” political strategist Gleb Pavlovsky told the Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.