A quick primer for those not familiar with the case:
Last fall, frequent Vladimir Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko was killed by a heavy dose of Polonium 210. Polonium is a highly refined nuclear material to which few governments have access. British law enforcement followed the clues to Andrei Lugovoi who many suspect has ties to current Russian intelligence organizations and even to Mr. Putin. In typical Soviet-Cold War fashion, the Russian government has refused to cooperate with the investigation and thrown up a number of conspiracy theories to distract attention. The British government finally lost its patience and expelled the Russian “diplomats.”
We put “diplomats” in quotation marks because in these instances, the first ones expelled are those suspected of being intelligence officers and usually carry titles like, “agricultural advisor.” Those of you who frequent this blog know that we regularly attend the Intel Seminar at the University of Cambridge. Disclosure rules of Chatham House Rules being what they are, we can’t reveal the source, but we’ve been told on a number of occasions by current and former British Intel officers that the number of foreign operatives and scope of spying by Russia and China is as high now as it ever was during the Cold War.
This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Vladimir Putin was a colonel in the KGB. He was a thug then and remains a thug now. We posted a revealing interview from the Wall Street Journal with Garry Kasparov earlier in the year. Russia under Putin has been dismantling the early democratic gains and is progressively becoming a fitting thugocracy under Putin. Dissidents, political opponents, the free press both at home (and, in the case of Litvenenko) abroad are being jailed or silenced–permanently.
Russia responded to the expulsion with a predictable amount of bluster and bloviation, calling the British move “immoral.” Watch for Russia to follow suit on these expulsions with a few of their own expulsions.
But Russia isn’t just killing their own. They are actively undermining US interests everywhere from Iraq and Iran to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, Cuba, North Korea, the UN–anywhere they can try to make themselves a relevant world player. Putin’s recent complaints about US missile defense are part of a larger strategy of bullying Eastern Europe and the rest of the EU. In this game Russia holds a strong trump card in the form of oil access which runs from Russia to the rest of Europe. We hope Europe will follow Britain’s strong example rather than kow towing to Putin and his cronies.
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