The Sun has cited sources in Scotland Yard as saying that "a two-man hit team with close ties to Russia" orchestrated the alleged poisoning of ex-Russian security agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK earlier this year.
The sources said that police are currently convinced that "they made a huge breakthrough" by pointing the finger at two key "persons of interest" who allegedly fled the UK within 24 hours of the attack on the Skripals.
The suspected hitmen are "now thought to be back in Russia and under the protection of President Vladimir Putin," according to the sources.
"The ultimate aim has always been to bring them to justice. Obviously if they're no longer in the UK, it makes it much more challenging," one of the sources said, adding that investigators are poised to open a criminal case against the suspected hitmen.
On March 4, 2018, the Skripals were found unresponsive on a bench at a shopping mall in the British town of Salisbury after they were exposed to what UK experts claimed was the A234 nerve agent.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May rushed to a conclusion, saying that it was "highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal," something that was vehemently rejected by Moscow, which called the accusations "absurd".
Following the alleged attack, UK Prime Minister Theresa May stated that she would be expelling 23 Russian diplomats, and accused Russia of the incident. Several countries have since followed suit and expelled Russian diplomats as a sign of "solidarity", prodding Moscow to respond in kind.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for his part, signaled Moscow's readiness to provide assistance in the probe, while at the same time stressing that Russia hadn't been provided with any specific facts proving its involvement in the Skripals' alleged poisoning.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were discharged from the Salisbury District Hospital on April 11 and May 18, respectively, and then were reportedly taken to an undisclosed location for their safety.
Commenting on the matter, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he hopes that Sergei Skripal will be safe and sound, noting that Skripal would have died immediately if he had been poisoned with a weapons-grade toxic agent.