Vladimir Putin’s Toxic Reach – The New York Times

Vladimir Putin’s Toxic Reach – The New York Times


Military investigators in protective suits worked Sunday in the English town where a former Russian spy and his daughter were attacked a week earlier with a nerve agent.

Neil Hall/European Pressphoto Agency, via Shutterstock

Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain declared an end to a mystery that was really no mystery. It was “highly likely,” Mrs. May said on Monday, that a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury, England, by Russian agents in an “indiscriminate and reckless” attack.

The attack on the former spy, Sergei Skripal, who worked for British intelligence, and his daughter Yulia, in which a police officer who responded was also poisoned, was no simple hit job. Like the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, another British informant, who was poisoned with radioactive polonium 210, the attack on Mr. Skripal was intended to be as horrific, frightening and public as possible. It clearly had the blessing of President Vladimir Putin, who had faced little pushback from Britain in the Litvinenko case.

The blame has been made clearer this time and this attack on a NATO ally needs a powerful response both from that organization and, perhaps more important, by the United States.

Mr. Putin has faced little backlash for actions even bolder than the gruesome intrigues in Britain, like the attacks by Russian forces in Ukraine and Syria. With growing support from autocratic forces in Europe, he must not be emboldened to think he will be unchecked. While President Trump has allowed Mr. Putin a free hand to meddle in American politics, he cannot ignore yet another attempted murder of a Putin foe on allied soil. The administration needs to enforce sanctions Congress has already passed and press NATO to do more, perhaps banning travel by Putin cronies and enacting other restrictions on business activities.

But while Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said the administration was “standing with our U.K. ally,” she would not say whether it thought Russia was responsible for the attack.

The Russians knew that the British would identify the nerve agent, leaving no doubt who was behind the killing. That makes Mr. Putin’s typically cynical treatment of the killing doubly outrageous. When the British “sort out” the killing, he said nonchalantly, then he will comment on it. At the same time his top propagandist on state television, Dmitry Kiselyov, was feeding the outlandish story that Britain poisoned Mr. Skripal to create a pretext for boycotting the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia. Why would Russia bother to go after a double agent of no use to either side, Mr. Kiselyov sarcastically wondered?

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