Staunton, March 17 – Many people are looking at the tough language that London and other Western capitals have used to denounce Moscow for its attempt to kill Sergey Skripal and his daughter in the UK and concluding that Vladimir Putin has suffered a major defeat. But in fact, Kseniya Kirillova says, Putin came out a winner given what he hoped to achieve.
On the one hand, neither London nor the other Western capitals have imposed new penalties corresponding to their tough new language. Indeed, expelling only 23 diplomats is hardly a major penalty; and it is one Moscow can easily match without suffering real problems, the US-based Russian analyst says (slavicsac.com/2018/03/17/kremlin-skripal-poisoning/).
And on the other, in deciding on who won and who lost in this situation, one has to consider the reasons Moscow took its initial action and those which animated the West. If one does that, Kirillov suggests, it is clear that Putin came out a winner in the Skripal case, something that makes it more likely he will engage in similar crimes in the future.
“The majority of experts,” the analyst says, “are inclined to the version that the main goal of the attack on Skripal was to send a message to other potential defectors, not only from among the officers of the special services but also officials, oligarchs and all those who are informed about the Kremlin’s dirty deeds.”
These include in particular, Kirillova continues, those listed in Washington’s “Kremlin Report” but not yet sanctioned and who may want to work out a deal, those with information of interest to the Mueller investigation in the United States, and others like Oleg Deripaska who have offended the Kremlin by their actions.
Those who do so domestically the Kremlin finds it easy to send a message that “it is better to lose your business than to lose your life,” the analyst says. But those living abroad present a different but as the Litvinenko and Skripal cases show far from irresolvable challenge – and they are generally carefully prepared lest things go other than the leadership intends.
That certainly seems to be the case with Skripal, Kirillova says. On the very day he was attacked, Moscow’s REN TV already had a story prepared about the utility of doing away with those whom foreign intelligence services may recruit (ren.tv/novosti/2018-03-04/med-knut-i-pryanik-kak-agenty-zarubezhnyh-specsluzhb-verbuyut-chinovnikov).
And Russian blogger Nikita Tomilin provided additional evidence that the Kremlin had prepared this attack not just to remove Skripal but as a PR effort to send a message to others (facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10212940391922765&set=a.10200351992860656.1073741825.1179858334&type=3&theater).
Since the attack on Skripal in the United Kingdom, Russian media and Russian officials have used the word “message” a lot in their discussions about the case, an indication that that is exactly what the Kremlin had in mind. And to be honest, Putin from his point of view won more than he lost.
He succeeded in stirring up nationalist passions at home in advance of the elections, and he succeeded as well in keeping the British response “diplomatic” and moderate. Yes, London expelled 23 Russian “diplomats,” but that is a loss Putin can easily make up for and respond to in kind without much criticism at home or abroad.
As US-based Russian historian Yury Felshtinsky has said repeatedly, Moscow in general and Putin in particular believe that the West will complain a lot when there is an attack but do very little. As a result, Kirillova suggests, there is no reason to believe that Putin won’t carry out more such attacks in the future.