Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 2:43 PM

Skripal, Et Al: Russia Taunting Britain with Brazen Assassinations

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

President Vladimir Putin shocked the world in 2006 when he ordered a hit on former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.

The shock was not that he ordered it, but that he had it done on British soil. After all, this was right under the noses of the then home secretary, Theresa May, and vaunted Scotland Yard detectives.

More to the point, though, here is the prescient way I commented on Litvinenko’s assassination in “Putin Probably Ordered the Hit. But No One Will Do Anything about It,” November 28, 2006:

____________________

The prevailing suspicion is that Putin targeted Litvinenko because he was becoming too credible in his criticisms of the Kremlin. Litvinenko fled for his life in 2000 — after accusing the FSB of killing over 300 Russians in 1999 in a Machiavellian scheme to frame and discredit Chechen rebels.

Then he began publishing the findings of his high-profile investigation into what many suspect was a Putin-ordered hit on journalist Anna Politkovskaya last month. She herself was publishing too many inconvenient truths about that ‘Chechen conspiracy.’

Putin had had enough of them both. …

Nonetheless, with all due respect to Scotland Yard and Interpol, no matter how probative the circumstantial evidence of Putin’s guilt, neither he nor his putative hitmen will ever be held to account for this murder. And everyone knows it. …

It comes as no surprise that Putin would order the assassination of a spy who he considered not just an insufferable critic but a traitor. Nor should it surprise anyone if/when this case results in terminal frustration for Litvinenko’s loved ones (namely his avenging wife and son) and patented futility for British authorities.

However, if one appreciates that Putin seems determined to emulate former Russian strongman Joseph Stalin, his ordering the assassination of these two journalists would seem relatively benign. After all, Stalin ordered the assassination of at least one million Russians (at home and abroad) and threw another 18 million in the Gulag for political offenses.

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Sure enough, it took the British a 10-year commission of inquiry to vindicate my assertion that Putin did it:

Mr. Putin is likely to have signed off the poisoning of Mr. Litvinenko with polonium-210 in part due to personal ‘antagonism’ between the pair, it said.

Home Secretary Theresa May said his murder was a ‘blatant and unacceptable’ breach of international law.

(BBC, January 21, 2016)

I duly dismissed this commission in “British Inquiry Finds Putin Ordered London Hit. No Sh*t,” January 27, 2016. Because, despite May declaring it a “blatant and unacceptable breach,” I knew the British would do nothing about it. They proved me right.

Therefore, I am hardly surprised that Putin has done it again. Nor am I surprised that he is showing utter contempt for the British by punctuating this hit with his signature MO.

The UK and US said on Monday that a Russian-made nerve agent had been unleashed on the English city of Salisbury, and that either Russia’s government or rogue Russian agents must have carried out the attack.

The attack targeted Sergei Skripal, a double agent who passed Russian state secrets to British intelligence in the 1990s and early 2000.

(Business Insider, February 27, 2018)

But it seems perversely fitting that it falls to May, now as prime minister, to hold Putin to account:

Theresa May has given Vladimir Putin’s administration until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a former spy [and his daughter, collaterally, were] poisoned in Salisbury, otherwise she will conclude it was an ‘unlawful use of force’ by the Russian state against the UK.

(The Guardian, March 13, 2018)

Of course, May had good cause to conclude this weeks ago.

What’s more, Putin is daring her to strike back. He’s literally mocking her ultimatum, dismissing it as typical British nonsense.

Never mind the plainly misguided (MAD) bravado inherent in Putin warning May not to mess with a nuclear power. After all, even without invoking NATO’s collective defense, May has more than enough nukes of her own to make Putin even more wary of war with Britain than Trump is of war with North Korea.

But Putin also made a point, during a Western-style campaign ad released on Sunday, of revealing his unapologetic motive for ordering such hits:

Putin said he was capable of forgiving. ‘But not everything,’ he quickly added, noting he could not forgive a betrayal.

(Agence France-Presse, March 11, 2018)

This constrains me to reprise my assessment of why Putin could never respect Edward Snowden, despite offering him sanctuary:

Putin is a former KGB spy who prides loyalty to country above all else. …

As much as he is undoubtedly reveling in the humiliation Snowden has caused Obama, Putin fully appreciates what special punishment he’d want to mete out to any Russian spy who does to him and Russia what Snowden has done to Obama and the United States.

(“Boycott Olympics Over Snowden? Don’t Be Stupid!” The iPINIONS Journal, July 18, 2013)

This perverse (Trumpian) sense of loyalty explains why he ordered hits on Litvinenko, Skripal, and other Russian spies and oligarchs for criticizing his Stalinist rule. It also explains why he’s telegraphing his intent to order more.

Apropos of which, The Chicago Tribune ran a telling report on March 25, 2017, titled “10 Critics of Vladimir Putin Who Wound Up Dead.” Of course, that number has since increased.

Granted, even though they are in critical condition, Skripal and his daughter are still alive. But the same cannot be said for Putin critic Nickolai Glushkov – who ended up dead under mysterious circumstances at his home in London just this morning.

If I were Garry Kasparov or Mikhail Khodorkovsky, I’d be watching my back (and inspecting my tea) very carefully.

That said, the only question is, what will May do? Especially because she must know that Putin will only mock her more if she limits her retaliation to expanding Swiss-cheese sanctions and expelling Russian diplomats.

Helpfully, CNN Money provided a blue print for retaliation in a special report yesterday. In “How the UK Could Hit Back at Russia Over Spy Poisoning,” it recommended a three-pronged retaliation:

  • Tightening economic sanctions
  • Freezing assets
  • Targeting money laundering

Of course, Putin has already demonstrated that he’s relatively immune to the consequences of economic sanctions: On the one hand, he has in Trump a “compromised” US president who thinks Russia can do no wrong. On the other hand, he has in China a country all too willing to help Russia weather any sanctions Western countries impose.

Therefore, May will have to double down on the second and third prongs. Which is just as well because nothing will unnerve Putin more than squeezing the Russian oligarchs he relies on like Pretorian guards.

‘Every self-respecting corrupt Russian government official has a property in London’. …

The government could use the Criminal Finances Act, a law approved in 2017, to force Russians who may be implicated in the attack, or have close ties to Putin, to explain how they purchased property in the UK.

(CNN Money, March 12, 2018)

Incidentally, this is instructive with respect to Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential election, as well as its ongoing cyberwarfare against the United States. Specifically, it would have been a far more effective deterrent if Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller had indicted 13 Russian oligarchs – with assets in the United Stateson money laundering and other financial crimes. Instead, he indicted 13 Russian hackers – with little or no assets in the United States – on a battery of cyber crimes.

It is also the case, after all, that every self-respecting Russian oligarch has property in the United States. In fact, no less a person than Donald J. Trump – who reportedly sold one of them a $40 million home for $100 million – could readily attest to this.

Accordingly, here’s to May making quite a show of targeting Russian oligarchs like Roman Abramovich, whose prized assets include the famous Chelsea Football Club. Because, trust me, these oligarchs would rather fund a palace coup against Putin than lose access to their billions in ill-gotten gains or, worse still, be forced to live permanently in Russia.

Not to mention that this would do much to belie prevailing claims that London has become My Beautiful Laundrette for money launderers of all stripes – from business oligarchs to political despots and drug kingpins.

Related commentaries:
British inquiry
Boycott Olympics
Compromised president
Khodorkovsky
Kasparov
Russia meddling

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