Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said his country has identified the two suspects accused of carrying out the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom in March, the BBC reported. Putin claimed they are civilians and not criminals.

“We know who they are, we have found them,” Putin said during an economic forum in Vladivostok. “They are civilians, of course.”

Putin said he hoped the men would turn up on their own and disclose the details. “This would be best for everyone,” he said. “There is nothing special there, nothing criminal, I assure you.”

Last week, UK’s Crown Prosecution Service named two Russian men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as suspects. They were also charged, in absentia, with a conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok. The police also appealed to the public to share any information on them.

The Russian president said he “wanted to address them [the two men] directly” and asked them to make a media appearance to protest their innocence, reported The Guardian.

On September 6, UK Security Minister Ben Wallace said Putin should ultimately be held responsible for the attack. He said the Russian government “controls, funds and directs the military intelligence” and that it was impossible to say that Putin was “not in control of his state”.

The case

On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a park bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury. They recovered after weeks of treatment.

The poisoning led to a major diplomatic controversy globally. The UK and its allies, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, accused Moscow of involvement in the incident and expelled 23 Russian diplomats from their territories. The US expelled 60 suspected Russian spies after the incident.

Russia has repeatedly denied claims that the nerve agent, Novichok, used to poison the pair was developed in the country or in the Soviet Union.

In July, a woman died in Amesbury town in South West England after being exposed to the same nerve agent. Amesbury is about 13 km from Salisbury. In August, the US announced its decision to impose sanctions on Russia for its alleged use of a nerve agent.