Putin’s new spy-games rulebook says there are no rules: opinion

President Vladimir Putin has “rewritten the spy-games rulebook” and “there are no rules anymore”, US-based Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky has said, according to Poland’s Gazeta Polska newspaper, after a Russian ex-spy was poisoned in Britain.

On March 4, Sergei Skripal, a former agent for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate, was targeted in a suspected nerve agent attack in Salisbury, southern England, which British Prime Minister Theresa May said was orchestrated by Moscow.

Skripal’s daughter Yulia was also harmed in the attack and both remain in hospital.

Felshtinsky said Russian ex-spies and “traitors” risked the lives of their loved ones and not just their own after the attack on Skripal, and that Putin had re-written the spy-games rulebook and that there were no rules anymore, Gazeta Polska reported.

The Russian historian also said that Skripal’s wife died in 2012 and his son in 2017, both in strange circumstances, the paper added.

Skripal was a double agent and was convicted for treason in Russia in 2006. He was released in a prisoner exchange in 2010 in return for ten Russian sleeper agents detained by the US, Felshtinsky was cited as saying.

According to Gazeta Polska, Felshtinsky said Skripal’s release was unprecedented as Russia, and the Soviet Union before it, usually gave up captured foreign agents in spy swaps rather than their own citizens.

Gazeta Polska said that the historian compared Skripal’s case to the 2006 polonium-210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a British-naturalised Russian defector and former officer with Russia’s FSB security service with whom Felshtinsky co-wrote Blowing Up Russia: Terror from Within.

The paper said that Felshtinsky noted that the Kremlin had also poisoned other “enemies”, naming a 2012 attack on a Russian businessman in London, an earlier attack in Russia on journalist Yuri Shchekochikhin, and others.

The historian also pointed to the deaths in London of Georgian businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili, who died of a heart attack in 2008, and of Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky, who was found hanging in his ex-wife’s home. Felshtinsky said both deaths were “suspicious”, Gazeta Polska wrote.

According to Felshtinsky, the investigation into the attack on Skripal would be difficult because poisonings were far harder to prove than shootings. He added that the probe into the death of Litvinenko took years and that even after its conclusion the Kremlin did not take responsibility for the “murder”, Gazeta Polska said.

“Vladimir Putin … will laugh in our faces and turn the whole [Skripal] case into a farce,” Gazeta Polska cited Felshtinsky as saying.

Felshtinsky said that, after Litvinenko’s death, Russia learned it would not have to face consequences for its actions, and that having a poor reputation in the West was no punishment for Moscow.

“After all the political assassinations, after the invasion of Georgia in 2008, after the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine in 2014, after trying to influence electoral procedures in many European countries, and after interfering in US elections in 2016 and finally, after President Putin’s recent speech, in which he directly blackmailed the whole civilised world with a threat of an atomic war, it is complete obvious that the rulers in Moscow are not concerned with how the world sees their actions,” Gazeta Polska cited Felshtinsky as saying.

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