For Russia, an assassin ends up as ‘a used bullet’ who can easily be replaced

By | March 31, 2019

Michael Schwirtz writes:

For months, I had been traveling in Russia and Europe, reporting on the poisoning last year in England of the former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal. It had touched off a geopolitical confrontation and brought talk of a new Cold War. Britain and its allies enacted sanctions and expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats after blaming the nerve agent attack on two officers from Russia’s military intelligence service, the G.R.U.

For Ukraine, Russian interference was an old reality. Russian special forces had seized Crimea in February 2014 and since then, the Kremlin has supplied arms, funding and troops to fuel a separatist war in eastern Ukraine that has cost 13,000 lives.

Assassinations happen frequently enough in Ukraine that they are often just blips in the local news cycle. In 2006, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed a law legalizing targeted killings abroad, and Ukrainian officials say teams of Russian hit men operate freely inside the country.

“For the intelligence services, as bad as this sounds, murdering people is just part of the work flow,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, a retired officer in Ukraine’s military intelligence service. “They go to work, it’s their job. You have a work flow, you write articles. They have a workflow, they murder people.”

“It doesn’t really worry them,” he said. “They celebrate it, mark it, without much sentiment.”

The Skripal poisoning had woken the West up to this. In Britain, authorities are now reviewing the cases of several Russians whose deaths on British soil were not initially deemed suspicious. In the United States, a bipartisan group of senators recently introduced legislation that would require the State Department to determine whether Russia should be deemed a state sponsor of terrorism.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that Russia can be deterred from making these kinds attacks,” said Daniel Hoffman, a former C.I.A. station chief who helped negotiate the release of Mr. Skripal from a Russian prison in 2010. “It really does fall on the people at risk to try to conceal their location and be on the lookout for any signs that the Russians might be targeting them.” [Continue reading…]

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