The attack of the nervous agent on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: the killers are not following the rules.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were hospitalized after collapsing in Salisbury, England. They had been poisoned with a nerve agent Novichok developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The British government, as well as France, the United States and Germany, have blamed Russia for the attack. Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May said it is "highly probable" that it is a state-sponsored attack or that Russia allows another group – terrorists, for example, or organized crime – to acquire a toxic nerve agent from military grade.
"They have had many opportunities to kill Skripal."
Still, if the Russian government was really responsible, why use a nerve agent that could be easily traced to them? "They have had many opportunities to kill Skripal," says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the non-profit organization CNA. "And there is, frankly, a myriad of much simpler and more practical ways of doing it."
But using chemical weapons is much more than killing. These taboo weapons are instruments of terror, and their use is designed to send a message to the world: that the power behind the attack – Russia, according to the United Kingdom – does not believe that anyone is ruthless enough to retaliate effectively. And for others who might consider betraying Russia to foreign powers, it's that snitches get more than stitches: they're killed.
Of course, the use of a rare nerve agent may be an effort to evade detection, says The Verge Cindy Vestergaard, director of the nuclear safeguards program at the Stimson Center. But we have seen similarly public and blatant attacks before, says Vestergaard. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with tea with polonium 210 spikes. And before that, in 1978, the BBC journalist and Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was killed when he was beaten with a castor-tipped umbrella on the Waterloo bridge in London.
"It's a & # 39; shit! & # 39;"
The other possibility is that these attacks are destined to send a message, and that message is clear, Vestergaard says: "it's a fuck! & # 39;" Using Novichok as a business card could be a way of saying that Russia does not care about looking guilty because any retaliation that the United Kingdom and the West can bring together is not terrifying enough. After all, an answer in kind is off the table, says Michael Kimmage, a professor at the Catholic University of America and an expert on Russian foreign affairs. "I do not think anyone is going to propose that we send James Bond to kill someone," he says.
If only one side is willing to be ruthless, change the rules of the game. This "espionage label," for example, held that the former spies were off limits for attempted assassinations, according to a Moscow Times opinion piece written by Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations, Prague. And there is an international treaty against the use of chemical weapons, so using them for attempted murder on foreign soil is beyond doubt. "They do things like this intentionally to show that they will not be limited in any way by what are considered established rules and norms of behavior," says Kofman.
"If you betray us, we will kill you."
That message is also aimed at anyone who considers telling Russia's secrets to foreign powers, says Kimmage. "A very clear message is" If you betray us, we'll kill you "to put it in strong terms, similar to the mafia," he says. "You will not be safe anywhere, even if you're in Britain." The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal gave him an example, and the theatrical method ensured that the press picked up the message and distributed it throughout the world. balloon.
There is a deeper meaning that the world should also take away the latter use of a chemical weapon, writes Vestergaard in an analysis for the Stimson Center: "The threat of chemical weapons not only persists in the 21st century, but is spreading " In recent years, the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons against civilians in Syria; ISIS used mustard gas in Syria and Iraq; The state-sponsored assassins used the nerve agent VX to kill Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un's half brother. And now, a chemical weapon made for the battlefield was used in a cathedral city in the United Kingdom, in the attempt to murder a citizen of the United Kingdom.
Vestergaard writes: "It seems that chemical peace is not only broken, it is shattered."