President Vladimir Putin says Russia has identified the two men suspected of poisoning a former Russian spy in Britain but has dismissed claims they are part of his intelligence service.
Speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok, the Russian leader said the pair suspected of the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were civilians and there was 'nothing criminal' about them, the Daily Mail reports.
British police have identified the pair as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and claimed they were members of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence network.
But Mr Putin said: "We have checked what kind of people they are. We know who they are, we have found them.
"We hope they will turn up very soon and will tell everything themselves. It will be better for all of us. There is nothing criminal in it."
His words come after Russia paraded nuclear-capable missiles able to reach London at a week-long war games event with China, with 300,000 Russian troops taking part in a move that has rattled the West.
The president's claims also fly in the face of British Prime Minister Theresa May, who previously told MPs the attack was "almost certainly approved at the top level of the Russian state".
In an unusual move, Mr Putin called on Petrov and Boshirov to appear before the media to talk about "themselves".
The denial comes amid claims the pair had a "back up" team with four more suspects still thought to be at large.
The two alleged assassins are also said to have visited the UK several times, posing as wealthy Russians, so that their trip in March would not attract suspicion.
Work has started to decontaminate the home of poisoning victim Mr Skripal, six months after the attack.
A cordon is in place so that police investigations or clean-up work can be carried out safely and will remain in place until the decontamination has been completed.
Counter-terrorism officers believe the house is where Mr Skripal, a former Russian agent, and his daughter Yulia were contaminated with nerve agent on March 4, after a high concentration of the chemical weapon was found on the front door.
Former GRU officer Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill after being exposed to the military grade nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury in March.
Experts believe the Novichok was kept in a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle and claim it took up to three months to produce and was probably sanctioned at the highest levels of the Russian state.
Detectives say it is likely the two suspects, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.
Prosecutors deem it futile to apply to Russia for the extradition of the two men, but a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained and the authorities are also seeking the assistance of Interpol.
Officers have formally linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury when Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent. Ms Sturgess later died in hospital.
Moscow has continued to deny it was involved in the attack.
A critic of Putin's regime has claimed the suspects are "already dead" and that a search for them is futile.
Andrei Piontkovsky believes that Petrov and Boshirov could have been executed to hide traces of the alleged crime.
He compared the case to that of Andrey Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, the men accused by Britain of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in 2006.
Lugovoy and Kovtun went public to deny the claims soon after being accused, meaning the Russian authorities then protected them, said Piontkovsky.
"Lugovoy and Kovtun rescued themselves by running to Ecko (radio station) and going public," the respected mathematician and political analyst said.
"One (Lugovoy) even had to be made an MP. If 'Petrov' and 'Bashirov' don't appear in the coming days, it means they are already dead."
Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons last week that CCTV evidence "clearly" places the two Russians in the vicinity of the Skripals' house shortly before the attack on them.
She said: "This hard evidence has enabled the independent Crown Prosecution Service to conclude they have a sufficient basis on which to bring charges."
Mrs May said around 250 detectives had trawled through 11,000 hours of CCTV footage to identify the attackers and had taken more than 1400 statements.
"Working around the clock, they have carried out painstaking and methodical work to ascertain exactly which individuals were responsible and the methods they used to carry out the attack," she told MPs.
May told MPs that "this was not a rogue operation" and would "almost certainly" have been approved at a "senior level of the Russian state".
CCTV images showed Petrov and Boshirov grinning as they walked around the Wiltshire city on the day former double agent and his daughter were poisoned with the military grade nerve agent.
The pair were also pictured leaving Britain at Heathrow Airport shortly after the attack and have never returned.
Making the announcement on the suspects, Scotland Yard's counter terror Commissioner Neil Basu said: "Today marks the most significant moment so far in what has been one of the most complex and intensive investigations we have undertaken in Counter Terrorism policing; the charging of two suspects – both Russian nationals - in relation to the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal."