By Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer
In the 1990’s, Sergei Skripal was an officer for Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate and worked as a double agent in the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service until he was arrested in 2004 in Moscow. He had given names of Russian spies to M16. Skripal was exiled as a result of a high-profile spy swap case following serious charges of high treason. He settled in Britain in 2010. At the beginning of this month, Skripal, a British citizen, and his daughter Yulia, a Russian citizen, were poisoned while together in Salisbury, England. Yulia had been visiting her father from her home in Moscow.
Since this chemical attack, Britain has made the claim that the Russian Federation is directly to blame for the attempted murders both Skripal and his daughter. Britain immediately announced measures to punish Russia for its actions, although Russia vehemently denies any responsibility in the poisoning. On March 14th, Theresa May announced that there was no alternative conclusion to draw from the attempted murder of Yulia and Sergei. She stated that this was a direct attack on the freedom of UK citizens, and due to this “unlawful use of force” by the Kremlin, Britain would promptly expel twenty-three Russian diplomats who were identified as intelligence agents. These actions are posed as response to a violation of human rights—rights which were compromised in the attempted murder. Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, responded to the accusations of the Russian Federation’s culpability by stating that these “rumours” were unfounded and investigation into the matter rendered the suspected agent innocent.
In response to the latest poisoning, The US and Britain have acted to expel many Russian diplomats and suspected intelligence officers from their respective countries. The Seattle Russian consulate is closed and in total 60 Russian diplomats are sent back to Russia. A prompt response from the Kremlin was an even-grounded retaliation which includes the shutting down of the US consulate in St. Petersburg; as well as the expelling of sixty foreign diplomats from Russia, the exact same number that President Trump expelled.
While the Kremlin denies its involvement in the attacks, it’s especially hard to believe them, of all the governments worldwide. Russia has a notorious, long, and disturbing history of poisoning its so-called “dissidents” abroad. The Washington Post reported on this history, exploring the development of colourless and odourless poisons within the Russian Federation. One KGB dissident stated that these poisons were tested on prisoners in the 1950’s. Some of these poisons are deadly when inhaled; others simply need to be absorbed into the skin. In 1995, a Russian banker was killed by cadmium poisoning, a toxin that had been rubbed onto the handle of his telephone. In 2008, after a Russian human rights lawyer was found dead in her car, it was suspected that she had been exposed to mercury poisoning. In 1978, a Bulgarian dissident was stabbed with a poison-tipped umbrella on Waterloo Bridge in London.
Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and vocal Putin critic was poisoned and survived, later writing a piece for The Guardian in September of 2004, titled “Poisoned by Putin.” She expressed that in Russia, “only a journalist who is loyal to the establishment is treated as “one of us”.” Essentially, it’s impossible to be loyal to the Russian Federation and to also speak the truth about their actions. Politkovskaya added: “If this is journalists’ approach to the cause that we serve, then it spells an end to the basic tenet that we are working so that people know what is happening and take the right decisions.” Courageous and admirable for her outspokenness toward Russian brutality, Politkovskaya won numerous awards related to her reporting of the Chechnya conflicts….and she was assassinated in Moscow in 2007.
In 2016, The New York Times reported on even more instances of Russia’s intimidating and poisoning of dissidents. Reporter Andrew Kramer identified that extreme tactics used to silence opponents are making a strong resurgence within Russia that has not been seen since the Soviet era. These tactics target journalists, rights advocates, opposition politicians, government whistle-blowers, as well as any other Russians who threaten a good image of Russia. All of the above are subjected to imprisonment on exaggerated charges, smearing in the media, or assassination. When it comes to the assassination category, the poisonings and murders of perceived dissidents are never claimed by or traced to the government, yet there is no evidence that suggests anyone else would have committed these crimes. To really put the nail in the coffin, Kramer offers us a chilling statistic: “no other major power employs murder as systematically and ruthlessly as Russia does against those seen as betraying its interests abroad. Killings outside Russia were even given legal sanction by the nation’s Parliament in 2006.”
When a country legally sanctions murder abroad, you know that you can’t rely on them for human rights leadership.