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Eighteen countries expelled more than one hundred Russian diplomats after a retired Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was almost murdered with nerve gas in Salisbury, England. British Authorities identified the gas as Russian, and concluded that Putin must be responsible.
President Putin is no angel and Russia is certainly capable and, under the right circumstances, willing to perform such assassinations. There are, however, multiple facts that don’t add up. Let us consider the possibilities:
Scenario 1: Russia did it
Russian intelligence is professional. If they wanted to kill someone anonymously, why on earth would they leave a trail of breadcrumbs leading straight back to their backdoor? Why use a nerve gas which was developed and used exclusively by the Russian authorities?
If the Russians did it, there are only two explanations. Either they are amateurs, which seems highly unlikely, or they wanted the world to know it was them.
The latter is by far the more likely option, but the question is why. Russians have killed ex-spies or political troublemakers before, leaving their mark. Former KGB and FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko who fled prosecution in Russia was poisoned in 2006 with Polonium, a radioactive substance that can only be manufactured by a nuclear power government. Russia probably did it, and they wanted to send a message that traitors are punished by death.
That could certainly be the case with Skripal, but there are problems with this explanation. Skripal had already served his sentence in Russia and was a free man. He was a cold war agent who had nothing to do with the current regime. He had been retired for thirty years. Why did they let him go in the first place, only to kill him decades later? It doesn’t make sense.
What other motive could Russia have for killing this former spy in such a revealing way? One reason could be to deliberately cause more conflict with the West to secure more popularity for Putin and his regime in Russia.
That would make sense if his popularity were waning, but it is not. He recently garnered support from 77% of the voters in the recent election out of a 67.5% turnout. Those are staggering numbers, and there is good reason to believe that they are quite accurate. Putin is immensely popular in his country. Therefore, he has nothing to gain from causing an artificial conflict with the West.
In sum, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the Russians were behind the murder attempt. Sure, it’s possible, but it lacks the ring of truth.
Scenario 2: another nation did it
Another option is that some other state carried out the attack using signature nerve gas to pin the blame on Russia. An analogous situation occurred during and after the U.S. presidential elections. It was revealed that Russians had hacked into the DNC thanks to old Russian spyware originating from Ukraine.
That’s all well and nice, except that pesky Wikileaks released top-secret U.S. hacker software, which among other things proved that U.S. intelligence can fake a Russian hacker signal.
That’s of course not to say that America is behind the assassination attempt in Britain, but it shows that pinning the blame on other nations is spy-business as usual.
The question then becomes: who benefits from creating a conflict between the West and Russia? There are plenty of plausible suspects, but it is noteworthy that Russia has popped up an awful lot lately. Russia this, Russia that. Russia, Russia, Russia.
Beware of Russian explanations
It is entirely possible that Russia is the culprit. There is indeed no reason to doubt that all the available evidence points straight back to Kremlin. However, in these troubled times, it might be wise to hold back on a final judgment and leave the door open for other possibilities.