Russian defector and ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and 21 bystanders were poisoned by a nerve agent in March. Skripal was a high ranking member of the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian military, when he defected to the British intelligence agency MI6 and operated as a mole for six years. After being exposed and jailed in 2004, Skripal was deported to Britain in a prisoner exchange between Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Since then, Skripal has frequently traveled to meet western intelligence officials and is suspected of having continued to be an active agent.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found barely conscious on a public park bench in Salisbury, a town in the United Kingdom. Several police officers and civilians were also affected collaterally by the poison, and one civilian, Dawn Sturgess, died as a result. The poison used was a highly toxic nerve agent known as Novichok, which was developed and stockpiled by the Russian government.
“They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent,” Prime Minister Theresa May said in a public statement. “So Mr. Speaker, there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter.”
After demanding and failing to receive an explanation from Russia for the use of Novichok in the poisoning and the arrival of two undercover Russian intelligence officials in London the day before the poisoning, the United Kingdom expelled 23 diplomats in retaliation.
The poisoning of Sergei Skripal has been part of a series of attacks against Russian dissidents in the West.
“A person who chooses the fate [of traitors] will regret it a thousand times,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin according to an interview with the New York Times in September.
Under the leadership of Putin, Russian dissidents, turncoats and opposition leaders have been targeted in a campaign of retribution. Defector Alexander Litvinenko, Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, journalist Anna Politkovskaya, radiation expert Matthew Puncher, and Russian expatriate Boris Berezovsky are just a few of the recent alleged victims of this campaign. In response, Russia maintains that all of the attempted and successful assassinations were carried out by independent actors and that the Russian Federation was not involved.
In response to these public attacks on residents of the United Kingdom, the West has largely limited their retaliation to the expulsion of suspected Russian agents acting as officials of the Russian embassies in Washington and London. However, the retaliation seems to be ineffective, and many call for harsher sanctions and retaliation in order to halt the attacks.
By William Ke, News Editor