When the histories of Cold War 2.0 are written, the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal on March 4 of this year will appear as a turning point. With that act of madcap aggression, unleashing a military-grade nerve agent in a provincial English city, the Kremlin made its lawlessness plain to see. No longer was President Vladimir Putin making any effort to hide his regime’s gangster nature. With the failed hit on Skripal and his daughter, both of whom nearly died, Moscow signaled to the world that it could do whatever it liked.
There is a happy ending of sorts. Today, after five weeks in the hospital, much of it in intensive care, 33-year-old Yulia Skripal was released to continue her recovery at an undisclosed location. Better yet, reports indicate that her father, who was not expected to recover, in fact is doing so at a faster rate than anticipated. Word in intelligence circles is that the Skripals will be sent to the United States under assumed identities to live out the rest of their lives where the Kremlin can’t find them. One hopes they are luckier than Mikhail Lesin.
It remains mysterious why the Kremlin decided to murder a 66-year-old former Russian military intelligence officer (and mole for British intelligence) who had been traded to Britain in 2010, giving no appearance of having much to do with espionage anymore. Skripal eschewed the lights of London for the quieter—and, he thought, safer—English countryside. Rumors that Skripal became a target by getting involved in an investigation of Cambridge Analytica, the seedy big-data firm that has gotten itself in hot water over our 2016 election, remain tantalizingly unconfirmed.
It’s even more mysterious why the Kremlin chose such an unsubtle killing method as Novichok, a nerve agent invented by the Soviet Union in the 1980s—to say nothing of the assassins placing the lethal poison in a public place (reportedly on Skripal’s door handle) in the middle of Salisbury. Even for the Putin regime, which has previously used obscure poisons and radioactive agents to assassinate its exiled opponents in Britain, the Skripal hit was extraordinary in its murderous cheek.
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