Putin’s Bold Attempt to Deny Skripal Attack

Photo/iStock-Leko975

“The concept of plausible denial had an undeniable flavor of wishful thinking about it”, wrote CIA veteran William Hood in his book on Soviet military intelligence (GRU)[1] officer and CIA spy, Pyotr S. Popov. Hood might just as well have been commenting on the risk calculus of Russian President Vladimir Putin when he authorized (as he surely must have) the March 2018 attempt to kill GRU defector Sergei Skripal.  If Putin truly believed the Russian role in the operation could be deniable, he ignored the lessons of history.

As I noted in a previous Cipher Brief article on the 2006 London murder of Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) defector Aleksandr Litvinienko (“The Tsar Knew”), Soviet and Russian intelligence services have a long history of engaging in assassination operations against those regarded as traitors to the state.  Some of those operations succeeded in killing the target, most spectacular among them the 1940 killing of Leon Trotsky in Mexico City and the 1937 shooting of rogue Soviet Illegal Ignace Reiss on a Swiss street…

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