Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Moscow Rules: The Skripal Affair
Moscow Rules: The Skripal Affair

Moscow Rules: The Skripal Affair

Traitors will be very sorry (Predateli sil’no pozhaleyut).[1]

                                                                      – President Vladimir Putin

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to defection . . . [is] the act itself but also in the terminology applied to it . . . [A] new word or phrase is still being sought and is badly needed. What we are looking for is a readily understandable expression conveying the idea of a courageous act to liberate not only oneself but other victims . . . If any of your readers has a suggestion we should be happy to hear it.[2]

                                                                        – 1965 letter in CIA’s Studies in Intelligence

Executive Summary

This essay dissects the recent attempt to kill a former senior Russian intelligence officer and MI6 double agent, Sergei Skripal, who was contentedly living a quiet retirement in the English countryside. It is a tale worthy of any potboiler. As an anonymous Kremlin official warned, “The fate of such a man is unenviable. It will haunt him the rest of his life and he will live each day in fear of retaliation.”[3] The attempted assassination is used to illuminate a larger dezinformatsiya narrative and perhaps, a distinct silovik view of traitors (actual and otherwise). Mark Galeotti describes it in his recent book as Russia’s “upperworld has been influenced by the underworld,” leaving what Owen Matthews calls a “logic of blurred lines” around political murder.[4]

Can right be wrong? Is the wrong thing right for you?[5]

                                                             – Salman Rushdie, Fury

Consider briefly the moral dimension of this complex sequence of events. Oliver Cromwell is reputed to have said, “There are great occasions in which some men are called to great services, in the doing of which they are excused from the common rule of morality.”[6] Not all occasions and services begging excuse are noble, however. Indeed, some are quite the opposite. “The only remedy for the unfrocked double agent was to kill him,” a former CIA senior official testified in the mid-1970s. Intelligence agencies rarely seek moral guidance, which in any event “runs all over the moral map,” as a Studies in Intelligence commentary put it.[7] Deontologists like Kant are certainly to be avoided. He condemned as immoral, even for “defensive purposes . . . such malignant and perfidious means” as “appoint[ing] subjects to act as spies, or engaging subjects or even strangers to act as assassins, or poisoners . . . or even employing agents to spread false news.”[8]

That Kantian roster of moral “no’s” covers the ground with respect to the biography of the former colonel in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate Service. A double agent for Britain’s MI6 at the time of his arrest in 2004, he was exchanged in a 2010 prisoner swap for several Russian sleeper agents caught by the FBI. Several weeks ago, he was poisoned (along with his adult daughter) by means of a suspected Russian nerve agent, for which the Russian government vociferously eschews responsibility.

A double agent’s treasonous act, a targeted killing in a quiet English town, these exemplify what political theorist Michael Walze calls “the problem of dirty hands.”[9] With dirty hands himself, Colonel Skripal is in no sense heroic in the eyes of most Russians. His betrayal is a moral stigma as much as political treason.[10] There is nothing distinctly Russian about this perspective. Britain’s Great Treason Statute of 1352 distinguished treason against the state from “another manner of treason,” this against one “to whom he owes faith and obedience.”[11] Such a fusion of secular and religious notions would denude Colonel Skripal of his defense of double agency—that he pledged allegiance not to Russia but to the Soviet Union—if it is argued that he owed faith to Matushka Rossiya even if he longer owed obedience to the now-gone Soviet state.  Even if so, it opens no door, moral or otherwise, to assassination by a military-grade nerve agent.

Accepting for argument’s sake that whomever poisoned Colonel Skripal was directed to do so by a state actor—and fair or not, most pointing fingers do so to the Russian government, which denies it—executing it entails what W.H. Auden called the “conscious acceptance of guilt in the necessary murder.”[12] Acceptance offers no moral sanctuary: the opportunity for preemption long gone, it was an (attempted) act of retaliatory murder. Walze wrote that while “a particular act of government may be exactly the right thing to do in utilitarian terms, the man who does it guilty of a moral wrong.”[13] This suggests a different standard for state-actors, whose actions, while morally repugnant, may nonetheless possess a certain (if crude) utilitarian soundness. It is what The Economist called “the realpolitik of assassination.[14]  While some state-actors struggle with the quandary, many do not.

“I caught him with an unseen hook and an invisible thread which is long enough to let him wander to the end of the world and still bring him back with a twitch upon the thread,”said G.K. Chesterton’s character, Father Brown[15] So, too, it seems, Russian security forces, which twitch the thread of traitors to Matushka Rossiya long gone quiet. President Vladimir Putin said in 2010, “This is what results from betrayal, and traitors are always bad. As a rule, they end up on the street, either from drunkenness or drugs.”[16] Or, one might add, with alarming frequency, dead.


FSB Operatives Arrest Colonel Skripal in 2004 (credit: Euronews)

credit: SkyNews

On 4 March, a former Russian military intelligence officer now living in England, Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter, Yulia, were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury, an (otherwise) irenic cathedral town in Wilshire. A 66 year-old former colonel in the Russian military Main Intelligence Directorate Service (Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye “GRU”), Colonel Skripal was arrested in 2004, convicted in 2006 of high treason for spying on behalf of Britain’s MI6, and sentenced by a Russian court to 13 years in prison. In July 2010, he was one of several persons exchanged for several Russian long-term sleeper agents held by the United States, who had been uncovered in the FBI’s Operation Ghost Story.

Suspecting the Skripals were poisoned but unable to identify the agent, the British government requested technical assistance from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) located in The Hague. The OPCW used environmental and biomedical samples to identify it as military-grade nerve agent, Novichok, which means “novice” or “newcomer” in Russian. Like the better-known Sarin and VX2 binary agents first developed by the United States, some forms of the Soviet cum Russian Novichok are binary nerve agents, meaning that in the final stage of synthesis, two non-toxic agents are mixed whereupon they react to produce the active nerve agent. Novichok (like all cholinesterase inhibitors) bind to the active site of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, which hydrolizes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Blocking the hydrolysis of acetylcholine causes it to accumulate at the junctions of nerve endings, where excessive acetylcholine over-stimulates smooth and skeletal muscles and causes the muscles to contract repeatedly and uncontrollably. It reportedly acts within 90 minutes to 5 hours after contact with the skin.[17] The Soviet Union, and its successor, the Russian Federation, allegedly stockpiled undeclared Novichok agents (on the order to a few tons to tens of tons), some variants of which were tested and a more limited number reached the stage where they were weaponized.[18]

It is plausible that the agent in question was a unitary Novichok precursor like A-232. If so, whoever sponsored the attack may have intended not to kill Mr. Skripal outright, but instead to make a lingering example him, on the model of the late Alexander Litvinenko, who died as a result of poisoning by radioactive polonium-210.

A-232’s alkyl amine group could enable it to target other enzymes in addition to AChE—and that raises the specter of severe symptoms arising months or years after exposure . . . trigger[ing] a lasting neurotoxic syndrome with symptoms such as nightmares, memory deficits, muscle weakness, and depression.[19]

The Russian government claims the program was discontinued in 1992 and the remaining reserves of the agent were destroyed in 2017.[20] Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused British authorities of refusing to disclose “the claimed Novichok agent’s chemical formula” because it would “make clear which countries developed the agent.” She went on to suggest during the Rossiya 24 (“Russia 24″) interview that the agent “could have been developed in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Britain, Sweden, or perhaps, the United States.”[21]

Hazmat teams inspect Colonel Skripal’s automobile (l)
Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova (r)

Moscow trotted out some of its usual defenders. Igor Nikulin, a former member of the United Nations Commission on Biological and Chemical Weapons, said, “There are only two countries in the world today that have the Novichok nerve agent—Great Britain and the United States.” Speaking during a televised Otkrytaya studiya (“Open Studio”) interview, Mr. Nikulin suggested that unspecified “oddities” (strannostyakh) betrayed a discrediting “Hollywood narrative” (gollivudskogo podkhoda) around the “Skripal case.”[22] No stranger to baseless speculation, Mr. Nikulin has claimed the United States built hundreds of “military-biological laboratories” in former Soviet Central Asian republics;[23] and another time, that the United States murdered Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez by infecting him with a lethal virus using “special weapons that can inject nanoparticles into the human body from afar.”[24] A dezinformatsiya commentary by Stanislav Byoshok—another well-known agitprop producer, he is barred from entering the Schengen Area and was deported by both France and Poland in the past few years, both times at Lithuania’s request—concluded:

It’s a story that won’t end. It’s clear to any sensible person that a label reading “Made in Russia” wasn’t attached to the poison, and it’s impossible to conclude in advance where the agent was manufactured. Even specialists at Britain’s Porton Down laboratory, who were first to investigate the substance, said this. Yet Britain didn’t hesitate to make a strangely illogical claim: if there’s no known source of the agent, it could be the Russians, since they had a problem with Skripal. That is to say, if there’s not even an abstract argument for blaming Moscow, they’ll do it anyway.[25]

“A Traitor to the Motherland”

They provide sanctuary for all
these—forgive me—bastards, to
preserve the option of sacrificing
them later.[26]

                                                                                                                              – Mikhail Sheinkman

credit: SkyNews

It is worth recounting how Colonel Skripal ended up in Britain at the end of a chain of events that began with the exposure of a Russian sleeper network in the United States by a senior Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (Sluzhba vneshney razvedki “SVR”) officer. Kommersant was the first to publish the name of the SVR officer who betrayed the network as “Colonel Shcherbakov,”[27] later more fully identified as Alexander Vasilievich Shcherbakov.[28] Colonel Skripal’s path—via an unprecedented prisoner swap—to a (abruptly interrupted) quiet life in Salisbury was atypical, even by the standards of turned Russian intelligence officers. So argues Yuri Felshtinsky in a recent InoSMI[29] interview:

[T]he Russian government, like the Soviet government, never exchanged Russian citizens who spied on their own country for their own spies held abroad. Foreign spies, yes, but not Russian ones. In this case, the FSB probably didn’t have a choice. And somewhere in the depths of their soul, the siloviki harbored anger, deciding that at the first opportunity, they would kill a Russian citizen who was spying for a foreign state. I think this is what happened.[30]

“Mr. Putin,” write Andrei Soldatov and Michael Rochlitz, “seems increasingly sold on the toolkit of silovik techniques,” which include “licensing the silovik toolkit to adventurous freelancers.” This, they predicted, “promise[s] to make Russian actions, especially in foreign policy, even more risk-seeking and unpredictable than before.”[31] It was perhaps in this spirit that Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin[32]—always the “provocateur”[33] (provokatora)—called for “abolition of the moratorium on the death penalty for traitors to the Motherland” (Otmena moratoriya na smertnuyu kazn’ dlya izmennikov Rodiny) and “authorization of special units to enforce sentences, even at the cost of their own freedom and lives” (Avtorizatsiya spetsial’nykh podrazdeleniy na privedeniye prigovorov v ispolneniye – dazhe tsenoy sobstvennoy svobody i zhizni).[34]

Without Father Chaplin’s prompting, the Russian agitprop arsenal came to life quickly in the immediate aftermath of the Skripal poisoning. Decrying “this new round of Russophobic hysteria” (novyy vitok rusofobskoy isterii), the Russian News Agency (RuAN)[35] started the ball rolling. It asked rhetorically, “In the story of the poisoning in the UK of a former GRU official, Sergy Skripal, perhaps the most interesting question is this—Why?”[36] Neither European countries nor Russia “simply like to do evil deeds for their own sake,” RuAN argues, reasoning that Russia lacked motive:

Skripal was a small-time nobody (melkoy soshkoy) who from moment he was swapped was neither seen nor heard from, instead living quietly in the English countryside and never traveling. There are far larger, far more serious traitors put there, whose liquidation would leave Russian society moderately satisfied . . . Neither Moscow nor London have any obvious motive to poison Skripal (at least for the time being). And so it’s entirely possible that in reality, the former spy fell victim to some completely different circumstance, one unrelated to international relations.[37]

Following the dezinformatsiya playbook, this passable RuAN narrative began a slow mutation to ratchet up the rhetorical intensity. “To ‘murder’ a defector, or The Only Good Russian is a Dead Russian” (“Ubit” perebezhchika, ili Khoroshiy russkiy – mertvyy russkiy) is the title of a Mikhail Sheinkman pull-no-punches Sputnik commentary:

So Russia is accused of using an agent it never produced, whose inventor still lives in the United States. And a spy series with an episode about “Novichok” airs in Britain a week before, as they called it, “the attacks in Salisbury.” And ten-year old stories from the Russian news archive about Skripal’s exposure are aired on a network working for the British secret services. And all of this before the spy was found unconscious on a park bench . . . But this story about Britain’s pious concern for the “good” Russian is instructive, in a Biblical context. Because Judas’ fate is always the same. [38]  

The now expanded dezinformatsiya narrative asseverates the Skripal poisoning is an elaborate Western ruse. Staying with Mr. Sheinkman, he published a second commentary a few weeks hence, this time in RIA Novosti. Its headline is “Out of site, out of mind, or ‘How Britain Erases Skripal’s Tracks’ ”:

The “Scandal in Salisbury” is rapidly approaching its endgame, if one can use chess terminology to describe this crude British scheme . . . After Papa Skrypal’s recovery, a joke’s the literary form best suited to this story. It’s a comedy of phrases and statements that requires no analysis at all . . .

This time, they remembered those who, amidst the anti-Russia delirium, somehow didn’t immediately matter. Like the residents of Salisbury. Those gawkers who without any protective clothing, stood and stared at the “humanoids” in hazmat suits trying to collect anything that looked like evidence. Or that is, pretending to try. For the townspeople’s safety, the authorities decided to get rid of Skrypal’s cottage, and the restaurant and pub where he went with his daughter before sitting on a park bench . . . It’s as if Ukraine didn’t cut down the bullet-riddled trees on Maidan Nezalezhnosti until a year after the coup. Britain should have learned from them and thought faster. They say it’s more expedient to demolish the “contaminated” buildings then it is to look there for traces of a nerve agent. Especially if there’s none there.[39]

The now fully waxed narrative invents stories out of whole cloth. Here is one from a Sputnik radio interview with “the well-known Russian economist and journalist Mikhail Khazin,” who “puts on the table . . . the reasons for the West’s extreme pressure on Russia”: it is that Mr. Skripal’s adult daughter Yulia, “was the originator of the fake news about Trump’s connection with Moscow,” clearly suggesting the poisoning was a United States false flag.[40] Mr. Khazin’s assertion is not to be taken at face value, however. His many outrages include a December 2016 talk in which he suggested that in Ukraine “of course there are, roughly speaking, a few million people, who can not be ‘fixed’. Well, they need to be partially eliminated, and partially deported.”[41]

Apostate, Not Defector

I see this as supreme justice and a
reminder to anyone who would
betray the country in the expectation
of enjoying a tranquil life, with
money and personal safety.[42]

                                                                                                                                       – Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin[43]

In the international clandestine
operations business, it was part of
the code that the one and only
remedy for the unfrocked double
agent was to kill him, and all double
agents knew that. That was part of
the occupational hazard of the job.[44]

                                                                                                                      – Former CIA Director of Operations Planning                     

“A sword of Damocles” hangs over the double agent, who is both “a cancer and a professional inevitability.”[45] So declares Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s official daily newspaper of record. Or as Stanislav Belkovsky put it less prosaically, “Traitors must be eliminated—this is the general principle of the work of special services.”

David Bromley distinguishes the allegiant defector from the apostate, who seeks to subvert her or his former organization.[46] So which is Colonel Skripal? A friend, Vladimir Timoshkov, told a BBC interviewer that Colonel Skripal did not see himself as a “traitor” because the “oath he had sworn was to his socialist Motherland, the Soviet Union, not Russia.”[47] Perhaps, but the leitmotif of counterintelligence is penetrating one’s opponent (while preventing one’s opponent from doing the same). Colonel Skripal was an instrument of penetration by, in his case, MI6.  

The euphemism for Moscow’s longstanding way of dealing with traitors and double agents is mokroye delo—literally, “wet work”—a term that parenthetically was picked up by Western intelligence officers like Howard Hunt, who testified to the Church Committee in 1974 about meeting with his deputy to “discuss ‘on hypothetical basis’ a method of dealing with a situation” with  “a double-agent,” which he described as “a search mission to determine the alleged capability” his deputy “in ‘wet affairs’ . . . that is, liquidations.”[48]

There is nothing especially novel about the attempt to assassinate Colonel Skripal. In the last couple of years alone, 14 Russian defectors have died under mysterious circumstances. As a senior British police official put it dryly, “Russian exiles are not immortal, they all die”[49] Nor is the method used against Colonel Skripal especially novel. Sixty years ago, in 1957, a KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti) trained assassin, Bohdan Mykolayovych Stashynsky aka Bogdan Stashinsky, used a spray gun that fired a jet of poison gas from a crushed hydrogen cyanide capsule to assassinate two expatriate Ukrainian political leaders in Munich. Travelling as “Siegfried Drager,”[50] he arrived in Munich in April 1957, where for several weeks he conducted surveillance on Lev Rebet, who at the time edited the exile paper, Ukraynsky Samostynyk (“Independence Ukraine”).

credit: Spy Museum

On 12 October 1957, Mr. Stashynsky attacked Mr. Rebet outside his apartment and fired the weapon, discharging hydrogen cyanide into Mr. Rebet’s face and causing his death, which German authorities first attributed to a heart attack.[51] Three days later, Mr. Stashynsky used an improved, double-barreled version of the same weapon to assassinate Stepan Bandera, a leader of the wartime fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (Orhanizatsiya Ukrayins’kykh Natsionalistiv) whose faction later became the paramilitary Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Ukrayins’ka Povstans’ka Armiya). Earlier that same year, an unidentified KGB operative used a prototype of Mr. Stashynsky’s weapon in London to assassinate Danylo Skoropadsky, the son of the Ukrainian military leader and monarchist, Pavlo Skoropadskyi.

From then to now, the point is just that: to make a point. It is not to kill silently, out of public view, but the opposite, says Republic:

A message to the future traitor: Does one need to see Russian footprints in the Skripal case? Does Moscow really want to remove all suspicion? It seems not at all.[52]

That suspicion endures in the face of platitudinous official denials that are standard dezinformatsiya fare.

Russia is absolutely not involved for one simple reason: for Russia, such an exploit is simply unacceptable, and moreover, would be pointless all around. It becomes more and more obvious that the attack on the Skripals, in all likelihood, is yet another crude fabrication.[53]

Vladimir Ermakov, who heads non-proliferation and arms control for Russia’s Defense Ministry, added that while he “wouldn’t want to construct conspiracy theories . . . all this smear campaign around Salisbury could well be staged from across the ocean.”[54] This is one in a series of jibes by Mr. Ermakov intended to undermine the OPCW investigators.

Do you want to investigate [the Skripal case]? We are ready for a joint investigation. If you do not, then it is a different question entirely. You have everything recorded [on CCTV]. Share [the evidence] and we will help with the investigation.[55]

One suspects Mr. Ermakov hopes otherwise. But regardless, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky told a Le Monde interviewer, “Western leaders need to understand who they are dealing with. This criminal group needs to be treated with both political and police methods.”[56]


While the purported employment of a military-grade nerve agent to poison Colonel Skripal may be extraordinary (although some other recent incidents bear a disturbing likeness) the targeting of intelligence service defectors is not. So, it is perhaps worthwhile concluding with a reminder of that fact. A 1964 CIA study assessed that it was “standard Soviet practice” to “mount kidnapping and assassination operations . . . against defectors from the Soviet intelligence services.”

The sudden disappearance or unexpected death of a person known to possess anti-Soviet convictions immediately raises the suspicion of Soviet involvement. Because it is often impossible to prove who is responsible for such incidents, Soviet intelligence is frequently blamed and is undoubtedly credited with successes it actually has not achieved. On the other hand, even in cases where the Soviet hand is obvious, investigation often produces only fragmentary information, due to the KGB ability to camouflage its trail. In addition, Soviet intelligence is doubtless involved in incidents that never become officially recognized as executive action, such as assassinations which are recorded as accidents, suicides, or natural deaths.[57]

Mutatis mutandis, and so, too, today.

The translation of all source material is by the author unless otherwise indicated.

[1] “Predateli sil’no pozhaleyut. Rossiyskiy perebezhchik otravlen.” RAKETA.News [published online in Russian 6 March 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[2] Central Intelligence Agency (1965). Letter to the editors. Studies in Intelligence. 9:61.

[3] “Svezho predatel’stvo: Kommersant vyyasnil, kto sdal amerikanskim spetssluzhbam set’ rossiyskikh razvedchikov-nelegalov.” Kommersant [published online in Russian 11 November 2010]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[4] Quoted in Owen Matthews review of Mark Galeotti (2018) The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia (New Haven: Yale University Press).  See: Matthews (2018). “Spooks and criminals.” Times Literary Supplement (30 March 2018) 52.

[5] Salman Rushdie (2001). Fury. (New York: Random House) 249.

[6] Michael Russell (1836). Life of Oliver Cromwell, v.1. (New York: Harper & Brothers) 253.

[7] Studies in Intelligence is an in-house CIA journal published by its internal think tank, the Center for the Study of Intelligence. See: Studies in Intelligence (2007). “Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying.” 51:1.

[8] Immanuel Kant (1780). Metaphysical Elements of Justice. 57. Right during War. See: Last accessed 18 April 2018.

[9] Michael Walzer (1973). “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands.” Philosophy & Public Affairs. 2:2 (Winter 1973), 160-180. The term “Dirty Hands” was borrowed from a 1948 play of the same name written by Jean-Paul Sartre.

[10] The author credits Soo Yeon Kim (2011). “Ethical Treason: Radical Cosmopolitanism in Salman Rushdie’s Fury (2001).” Ariel. 42:1, 76.

[11] Michael Hanrahan (1996). “Seduction and Betrayal: Treason in the ‘Prologue’ to the ‘Legend of Good Women’.” The Chaucer Review. 30:3, 230.

[12] W.H. Auden (1937). Spain.

[13] Walzer (1973), op cit.

[14] See: Last accessed 18 April 2018.

[15] From G.K. Chesterton (1911). “The Queer Feet. The Innocence of Father Brown. (Gutenberg online edition)

[16] “Svezho predatel’stvo: Kommersant vyyasnil, kto sdal amerikanskim spetssluzhbam set’ rossiyskikh razvedchikov-nelegalov.” Kommersant [published online in Russian 11 November 2010]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[17] “Novichok» uzhe ubival.” Novaya gazeta [published online in Russian 22 March 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[18] While most reports identify Novichok as the nerve agent used here, this should properly be understood to refer to a class of agents rather than to a specific one, as Richard Stone cautions. See: “U.K. attack puts nerve agent in the spotlight.” Science [published online 23 March 2018] Last accessed 14 April 2018.

The Soviet Union reacted to the c.1970s-1980s United States’ program to develop third-generation chemical weapons—binary ammunition based on nerve agents like sarin and VX—with its FOLIANT and NOVICHOK programs to develop fourth-generation weapons. These nerve agents used in these weapons exerted enhanced toxicity (2x-3x) compared to V-type nerve agents. [Vladimír Pitschmann (2014). “Overall View of Chemical and Biochemical Weapons.” 2.5. Chemical Weapons in Nuclear Age. Toxins. 6(6): 1761–1784.] Three unitary agents tested by the Soviets in the late 1980s—Substance 33, A-230 and A-232—were “the springboard for the development and testing of the Novichok binary weapons.” The production of their precursor agents was relatively easy to hide under the guise of the legitimate production of agricultural chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides.

Source: Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov (1995). “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” Table 2. Mirzayanov’s Account of the Novichok Program. In Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen. Roland Lajoie & Michael Krepon. Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects. Stimson Report No. 17 (October 1995) 25. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

In an interview published in the Russian online journal Kolokol (“the Bell”), Vladimir Uglev, a former scientist working at the Volsk branch of Russia’s State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (Gosudarstvennyy nauchno-issledovatel’skiy institut organicheskoy khimii i tekhnologii “GosNIIOHT”) said the Novichok cryptonym was “commonly used to describe four substances,” three of which were “part of the ‘Foliant’ program” in the 1970s” and a fourth was developed in the early 1980s. “All these substances were part of the group referred to as ‘Novichkov’ but that wasn’t GosNIIOHT’s name for them,” he said. See: “Razrabotchik «Novichka Vladimir Uglev: Partii sostavlyali ot 20 grammov do neskol’kikh kilogrammov.” Kolokol [published online in Russian 20 March 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[19] Stone (2016), op cit.

[20] “Novichok» uzhe ubival.” Novaya gazeta [published online in Russian 22 March 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[21] “Zakharova zayavila, chto raskrytiye formuly «Novichka» proyasnit stranu yego proiskhozhdeniya.” RT [published online in Russian 17 March 2018]. The Rossiya 24 interview can be viewed at: . Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[22] “Igor’ Nikulin: A byl li Skripal’?” Svobodnaya Pressa [published online in Russian 21 March 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018. The interview can be viewed here: Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[23] “Igor’ NIKULIN—o tom, zachem voyennyye SSHA okruzhayut Rossiyu biolaboratoriyami.” Pravda [published online in Russian 9 June 2017]. . Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[24] “Ugo Chavesa mogli otravit’ v shtab-kvartire OON – ekspert.” Pravda [published online in Russian 6 June 2016]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[25] Mr. Byoshok is an analyst at the CIS-EMO (Commonwealth of Independent States-Election Monitoring Organization), an NGO established in Russia in December 2003. According to an April 2005 Radio Free Europe report, the CIS-EMO “has gained notoriety by often proclaiming elections in former Soviet republics to be free and fair, in contrast to other monitoring groups that find the same elections to be flawed . . . This practice, seen by some as nothing more then a KGB disinformation operation left over from Soviet times, consists of groups of trusted CIS employees from the secretariat in Minsk who roam the CIS to observe elections and invariably announce that they were transparent, fair, and democratic — providing that the more pro-Kremlin candidate wins.” See: “CIS: Monitoring The Election Monitors.” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [published online 2 April 2005]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

“Interesnyye momenty: kak otchet OZKHO povliyayet na ‘delo Skripaley’.” Ekonomika segodnya [published online in Russian 13 Apruil 2018]. Last accessed 13 April 2018.

[26] “Ubit perebezhchika, ili Khoroshiy russkiy – mertvyy russkiy.” RIA Novosti [published online in Russian 15 March 2018]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[27] Svezho predatel’stvo: Kommersant vyyasnil, kto sdal amerikanskim spetssluzhbam set’ rossiyskikh razvedchikov-nelegalov.” Kommersant [published online in Russian 11 November 2010]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[28] “Polkovnik SVR Shcherbakov vzyat pod zashchitu FBR.” RIA Novosti [published online in Russian 14 November 2010]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[29] InoSMI is a web portal sponsored by Russia’s Communications and Mass Media Ministry’s (Ministerstvo svyazi i massovykh kommunikatsiy Rossiyskoy Federatsii “Minkomsvyaz’ Rossii”)

Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation (Federal’noye agentstvo po pechati i massovym kommunikatsiyam Rossii “Rospechat”) that posts translations of select articles into Russian. The name InoSMI is a portmanteau word combining Internet-proyekt  (“Internet project”) and zarubezhnyye SMI (“foreign mass media”).

[30] Siloviki is a slang version of silovik (“armed agent,” a term derived from silovye struktury or “force structures” and the root word sila or “force”) that refers to Russia’s so-called “force ministries” (silovyye ministerstva). Andrei Soldatov and Michael Rochlitz identify these ministries as the Defense, Interior and Emergency Situations ministries; the Investigative Committee, and the General Procuracy, which houses the Anti-Corruption Administration. See: Andrei Soldatov & Michael Rochlitz (2018). “The Siloviki in Russian Politics.” In Daniel Treisman, ed. The New Autocracy: Information, Politics, and Policy in Putin’s Russia (Washington DC: Brookings Institute Press) 83-108.

[31] Ibid., 107-108.

[32] Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin was chair of the Russian Orthodox Church Synodal Department for Relations between Church and Society from March 2009 until dismissed in December 2016 by Patriarch Kirill, his longtime patron. The following month, President Putin dismissed Father Chaplin from the Presidential Council for Interaction with Religious Associations on which he had served since September 2009. An outspoken and archconservative cleric, he became known “for tirades against Western values, gay rights and individualism” and “once hinted that women wearing makeup and miniskirts are asking to be raped, especially if they’re also intoxicated.” See:

[33] The Russian historian and political scientist Andrei Zubov’s description of Father Chaplin, “my old student.” See: “Stalin obvorovyval vsyu stranu. Vidimo, eto – ideal Putina.” Znak [published online in Russian  26 May 2016]. Last accessed 15 April 2018. He recently suggested “unlike the Americans, we’re not afraid to destroy big cities.” See: “Svyashchennik RPTS: «Russkiye ne boyatsya atomnykh bomb! Tak budet luchshe. Prichastites’».” Vesti [published online in Russian 12 April 2018]. Last accessed 15 April 2018.

[34] “Skandal’nyy protoiyerey RPTS Chaplin prizval unichtozhat’ «izmennikov rodiny» raketami.” InfoResist [published online in Russian 10 March 2017]. Last accessed 15 April 2018. It is tangential to this essay but nonetheless interesting to note that the silovski exercise de facto control over the Moscow Patriarchate and religious policy [ Last accessed 15 April 2018]. Victor Yasman calls it part of “the soft-power foundations of Putin’s Russia”[34]—and the Holy Synod has a department dedicated to working with the siloviki. See: Yasman (2007). “The Soft-Power Foundations Of Putin’s Russia.” RadioFreeEurope/ RadioLiberty [published online 9 November 2007]. Last accessed 15 April 2018.

[35] identifies The Russian News Agency—commonly known by its Russian language acronym, RuAN (Russkoye Agentstvo Novostey)—as within the Russian government’s soft power constellation. 

[36] “Otravleniye Skripalya – komu bylo vygodno ubit’ perebezhchika?.” Russkoye Agentstvo Novostey [published online in Russian 8 March 2018].новости/отравление-скрипаля-кому-было-выгодно-убить-перебежчика/. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Sputnik, 15 March 2018, op cit. Mr. Shenkman, a RIA Novosti fixture, hosts Radio Sputnik’s Na grani (“The Verge”).

[39] “S glaz doloy iz serdtsa von, ili Kak Britaniya zachishchayet sledy Skripalya.” RIA Novosti [published online in Russian 9 April 2018]. Last accessed 16 April 2018. The “cut down the trees on Maidan Nezalezhnosti” reference is to a report aired in April 2014 on Russia’s Channel One (Perviy kanal) that Ukraine’s Maidan government cut down trees along Institutskaya Street to conceal evidence in a disputed sniper attack on Maidan protestors. The Channel One report claimed the trees were removed because they contained bullets that would link the sniper attack to a false flag attack by snipers from a far right militia group aligned with Maidan, and not as the Maidan government alleged, Berkut internal security forces loyal to the deposed Yanukovych government. See: “Kommentarii eks-glavy MVD Ukrainy k ozvuchennoy versii novykh kiyevskikh vlastey o «dele snayperov».” [published online in Russian 6 April 2014]. Last accessed 15 April 2018.

[40] “Khazin: Skripal’ byl razrabotchikom fal’shivok o svyazi Trampa s Moskvoy.” Sputnik [published online in Russian 6 April 2018]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[41] See: Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[42] “Vsevolod Chaplin: ‘Yest’ lyudi, kotorykh stoit nakazat’ tak zhe, kak Voronenkova’.” Otkrytaya Rossiya [published online in Russian 23 March 2017]. Last accessed 15 April 2018. Father Chaplin was speaking about the murder of Denis Voroenkovo, a former deputy for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in the State Duma. He was shot dead in October 2016 on a busy street in central Kiev having fled to Ukraine earlier that year, renounced his Russian citizenship, and become an outspoken critic of President Putin. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Yuri Lutsenko, later accused Vladimir Tyurin, an alleged Russian crime lord, of masterminding the murder, which Petro Poroshenko denounced as an act of “state terrorism”.

[43] “Loyal’nyy k vlastyam protoiyerey okazalsya v opale.” Radio Azattyk [published online in Russian 29 March 2016]. Last accessed 16 April 2018.

[44] Testimony before the United States Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, 12 January 1976. See: fn(69), p.133. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[45] “Likvidatory. Nad predatelyami-razvedchikami zanesen damoklov mech.” Rossiyskoy gazety [pubished online in Russian 7 July 2011]. Last accessed 17 March 2018.

[46] David G. Bromley, ed. (1998). The Politics of Religious Apostasy. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers) 19-23.

[47] “Russian spy: Skripal asked Putin if he could return home.” BBC [published online 24 March 2018]. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[48] See: at p.132. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[49] Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations of the Metropolitan Police Service, on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, 6 March 2018. Quoted in “Rossiyskiye izgnanniki ne bessmertny.” Novaya Gazeta [published online in Russian 7 March 2018]. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[50] Nigel West (2006). Historical Dictionary of Cold War Intelligence. (Latham, MD: Scarecrow Press) 325.

[51] As a precaution against accidentally inhaling the gas, Mr. Stashynsky had earlier swallowed a tablet of sodium thiosulphate.

[52] “Poslaniye budushchemu predatelyu. Zachem nuzhen rossiyskiy sled v dele Skripalya.” Republic [published online in Russian 14 March 2018]. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[53] “Rossii takaya avantyura po vsem parametram nevygodna: Kak MID RF ob”yasnil otravleniye Sergeya Skripalya i pristydil inostrannykh diplomatov.” Kommersant [published online in Russian 21 March 2018]. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[54] Ibib.

[55] Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[56] “Mikhaïl Khodorkovski : « Quelle sera la prochaine étape ? Un virus ? Une arme biologique ?” LeMonde [published online in French 15 March 2018]. Last accessed 17 April 2018.

[57] Central Intelligence Agency (1964). “Soviet Use of Assassination and Kidnapping.” Center for the Study of Intelligence. Studies Archive Indexes 19:3. Last accessed 20 April 2018.

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