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Salisbury, UK © photo.eccles

Russia’s Latest Message to Dissenters: You Are Next

The latest attempted assassination of former Russian double agent in Britain is the most recent piece of evidence that the Putin regime is a murderous thuggish outrage.

For a brief moment it seemed that Russia could emerge from the dictatorship of the Communist Party and the chaos of the Yeltsin years into a sunlit future of a pluralist, open, democratic society. In that brief moment before Vladimir Putin got into his stride, there was hope. The latest attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with the collateral injury to his daughter Yulia, a local policeman and innocent passers-by is just the most recent piece of evidence that the Putin regime is a murderous thuggish outrage mirrored on the regime of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Dozens of critics have been poisoned, shot, thrown out of windows, murdered or sent to prisoner camps.

This goes on while Putin and his gang of kleptocrats enrich themselves and their families with billions of looted money that would make even the Saudi royal family blush with embarrassment.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is searching for an effective response to the second Russian defector attacked in the UK using sophisticated toxins produced in state-owned chemical warfare establishments. There have been over a dozen other suspicious deaths of Russian dissidents in the UK in recent years whose causes are obscure. Polonium 210 was selected for Alexander Litvinenko’s assassination because not only is it is deadly, but it washes out off the system very quickly and becomes undetectable. It was only due to the brilliance of the attending physicians that they suspected such an elaborate poison and tested early enough to find it.

The nerve agent that got Skripal was similarly designed by its inventors to be hard to identify. The assassins may think they were being clever, but in fact were outwitted by the British investigators. But it hardly matters. The Russian regime has got their man and will continue to lie about their involvement. Their objective — a warning to defectors and dissenters — has been achieved: Beware, you are next.

Russia is not the only country to use assassination to eliminate enemies. Israeli Mossad has done it for years against Palestinians and Iranian nuclear scientists. Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya conducted a campaign to assassinate the “wild dogs” that opposed his murderous regime. The Iranians in the early years of the revolution assassinated a whole generation of exiled opposition figures. The US has used its drone program to anonymously kill unknown numbers of those it labels as terrorists. Lest we forget, it was a British secret service-supplied gun that killed Rasputin in tsarist Russia.

There is regrettably a threshold for tolerating such statecraft, even if there is a general acceptance that the end justifies the means. Where a state eliminates an active enemy who intends to cause real harm, there is at least some mitigating motive. In Russia’s case they are not neutralizing an active enemy but exacting revenge, retribution and seeking to instill terror in those who oppose Putin’s regime. This tells us a lot about the nature of the regime, though none of this is very new.

How should the UK and the West respond? We know how to deal with thuggish murderous regimes — we have a lot of experience with the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, including the USSR. We have current experience with North Korea. We should treat Putin’s regime the same, for it is in the same category.

No matter what the cost to the UK economy, the London banking center or the UK oil industry, we should police all the UK’s relationships with Russia and Russians until they can prove their innocence and their independence of the regime. All official visas should be suspended, all official bank accounts frozen, all Russian government-owned businesses sanctioned. Russia should be excluded from London financial and insurance markets, and all British overseas territories, including the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands, should be required to do the same. Painful, but it is the right thing to do that will show some leadership to the rest of the world in how to deal with Russia.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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