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For Putin’s Russia, a poisoned spy sends a political message

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LONDON – Among those who knew Sergei Skripal in the quiet English city of Salisbury, few seem to have been aware of his background as a spy and British-Russian double agent. He frequented local pubs, bought lottery scratch cards in corner shops and joined a social club alongside local men in their 60s.

On Sunday, that past seems to have caught up with him. Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned by what British authorities say was a sophisticated nerve agent. They are now hospitalized in critical condition. A policeman who responded to their collapse on a bench outside a shopping center was also exposed and his condition is classed as “serious.”

The Times newspaper reported Thursday that Britain’s MI5 believed Moscow was behind the poisoning. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has denied the charges.

However, the difficulty of manufacturing the chemicals makes them practically the calling card of a government-sponsored assassin. And that may be part of the point — to remind foes no one is safe no matter how far or long they run. That opinion is increasingly shared by experts on Russia, who see the poisoning as a sign of just how committed Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin has become to eradicating its enemies — and reminding others it can do so.

If Moscow was behind the attack, its timing ahead of Russia’s presidential election is significant. Putin is almost certain to win the March 18 vote, but he is sending a message with his increasingly bellicose rhetoric aimed at the West as well as domestic protesters.

Earlier this month, he announced Russia had developed an array of sophisticated new nuclear weapons. That speech, along with........

© The Japan Times