The poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was almost certainly carried out on the orders of the Russian state. To add further tragedy to the crime the first police officer on the scene is now ill in hospital. All the victims are believed to have been poisoned by some kind of deadly nerve agent. The last high-profile murder by the Russian state was that of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
I met Litvinenko in March 2006. He had been introduced to me as someone who knew about KGB infiltration into European politics, and in particular the European Union. Litvinenko was a former KGB colonel who was not a ‘spy’ as such but a specialist in counter terrorism and organised crime. His misfortune was to fall foul of the most organised criminal in Russia, Vladimir Putin, then head of the FSB the successor organisation to the KGB.
Years before the current, artificially concocted frenzy of alleged Russian involvement in President Trump’s election and the Brexit Referendum there was, and still is, the real issue of how far the KGB infiltrated Western politics. Long after the fall of the Soviet Union the Russian state and its security operatives still know who their long embedded human assets are, recruited by a mixture of bribery and blackmail. Some of those human assets are still in positions of influence.
Litvinenko told me that he objected to the web of corruption and organised criminality he found amongst his fellow FSB officers. His big mistake was to report that web of corruption to his boss, Mr Putin. Too late he realised that Mr Putin was at the centre of the web. Litvinenko was murdered in London because of his revelations about the Putin regime’s terrorism and criminality and his continued opposition to it.
Litvinenko’s poisoning with Polonium 210 was bungled. Had it been done properly he would have died quickly and the method of his murder would never have been discovered. Such murders are not unusual acts. They have been going on since the earliest days of the Soviet Union. On the orders of Lenin, a top-secret poison factory was established 1921. Its scientists designed poisons to be used against ‘enemies of the people’.
Domestic enemies of the Soviet Union were easily dealt with, simply imprisoned on trumped up charges never to be seen again, but opponents on foreign soil need a subtler approach. Murder could only be sanctioned at Politburo level, and the security services used undetectable poisons making it difficult for foreign governments to prove who the perpetrator was, or indeed that a murder had taken place.
Opponents, dissidents and troublesome refugees in foreign countries were to die quickly and mysteriously by unidentified causes. Those in the know would understand who was responsible and draw the necessary lessons from it. Over the following decades the factory continued its work developing new and more deadly poisons and biochemical weapons.
After the fall of communism, the biggest mistake Boris Yeltzin’s regime made was not to disband the KGB altogether. Instead it changed its name to the FSB and morphed into a gangster organisation, eventually headed by master criminal Vladimir Putin. It also got lax in carrying out its assassinations. The most notable bungled assassination so far had been that of Mr Litvinenko. That would now appear to have been surpassed by the poisoning of Mr Skripal, his daughter, and the innocent policeman going to their aid.
President Putin’s regime merely brazens out overwhelming proof that it is responsible for Litvinenko’s murder, and it will do the same in this case. And why wouldn’t it? In 2006, a few months before Litvinenko’s murder, the Russian Duma passed a federal law authorising the President to give orders for assassinations anywhere in the world.
The British authorities are reportedly looking into a number of mysterious deaths of Russian and Georgian nationals in the UK over recent years. Some might voice the view that if MI6 had murdered British traitor George Blake in Moscow would many not have been pleased about that?
So why should we care about traitors to their own country like Mr Skripal? One reason not to think this way is that people like Mr Skripal are ‘traitors’ not to their country but opponents of the gangster regime that runs Russia, and Britain and MI6 are their allies in a struggle against evil.
Russia has passed a law allowing it to hunt down and kill their opponents, like the Mafia hunting eliminating informants in a witness protection programme; but in this case two other innocent victims have been involved. The Russians are not just lax in how they carry out their international assassinations but completely contemptuous of whatever mayhem they may cause on British soil.
We should care that a foreign power can murder anyone on British soil with impunity. Allowing it to happen means that we cannot protect foreign agents who have rendered us service, albeit perhaps by betraying their own country, and thereby discouraging future double agents our security services might recruit. Allowing that to happen is not good in either case.
The British establishment sold its soul long ago and welcomes any foreign villain, crook and gangster that has dirty money to invest in the UK, buying luxury homes to fuel the upward spiral of house prices. But one way of to clip Mr Putin’s wings in the UK would be to target the assets of his rich oligarch friends. This would be a language that Mr Putin and the Russian mafiosi understands and might respond to.