More assassinations to come?
Will Putin seek retribution against the oligarchs who jump a sinking Russian ship?
In his unprecedented series of interviews with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, when film-maker Oliver Stone broached the subject of assassinations, observing that Putin himself had by then survived at least five attempts on his life (that we know of), the former KGB man replied with an old (and slightly ominous) Russian proverb that translates roughly as, “Those that are destined to be hanged are not going to drown.”
Russia is a country with a long history of assassinations, many of them going down on British soil, where the Okhrana, tsarist precursor to the KGB and its modern successor agencies, targeted “left-wing radicals” among the early 20th Century Russian refugee community; the KGB helped kill Bulgarian dissident and radio broadcaster Georgi Markov (with an umbrella gun) in 1978; and the current security services continue its age-old (and legally sanctioned) policy of “liquidating defectors” from their own ranks: former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko (with polonium) in 2006, and former GRU man Sergei Skripal (with Novichok) in 2018. Skripal, along with his daughter, survived the attempt on his life. Dawn Sturgess, an innocent British national, wasn’t so lucky. Her dumpster-diving boyfriend found the discarded perfume bottle containing the deadly nerve agent and gave it to her as a gift. She died in the hospital after spraying herself with it.
Ex-spooks and double-agents aren’t the only ones to end up on the Kremlin’s hit list. Exiled oligarchs who have fallen out of favor with the regime, whether due to political differences or because they simply refuse to cough up enough of a kickback, occasionally have found their names at the end of the poison pen that Putin uses to sign their death warrants. Oligarchs Arkady Badri Patarkatsishvili, Nikolai Glushkov and Boris Berezovsky, a friend of Litvinenko, have all died under suspicious circumstances in the UK.
The Russian president’s inner circle remains loyal, but what about those billionaire oligarchs who are now feeling the sting of U.S. sanctions and can afford to back a dark horse, an outlier in the security services or military who might prove acceptable to the new “Moscow Center?”
And if so, will Putin strike first among Russian exiles and ex-pats abroad, or even his own circle (it only takes a single traitor), to prevent it?
What about those returning to Mother Russia to flee the luxury playgrounds—New York, London, the French Riviera—where they have worn out their welcome?
Is stable regime change a real possibility in Russia, or will such a purge serve simply as a self-cleansing moment for a more isolated, hardline draconian Putin-led Kremlin at war with itself and the world? Could we end up with something—or someone—worse?
We’ll know soon enough.
Once the bodies start dropping.
Under suspicious circumstances.