James Bond is a fictional character, but some of the gadgets the iconic master spy uses are mirrored in real Cold War devices. The KGB used the MSP Groza, a tiny silent derringer which used piston-actuated cartridges to launch a standard 7.62mm AK bullet so the victim’s wound would appear to come from an assault rifle. Another KGB weapon was designed to kill victims with a burst of cyanide gas. The most notorious of all was the umbrella used to kill Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov in 1978; the umbrella’s shaft contained an air gun that fired tiny perforated balls soaked in lethal ricin.
Assassinating defectors and double agents on the streets seems very much like a relic of the Cold War – but over the last few years, it’s started to make a comeback. On November 1, 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who had fled to the UK, met two former colleagues for tea in London. Later that day he suddenly became seriously ill. He died on November 22, and the autopsy showed that he’d been killed by a dose of radioactive polonium-210, probably slipped into his tea by one of his old KGB friends.
On March 4, 2018, another former Russian intelligence officer, ex-GRU colonel Sergei Skripal, was found unconscious with his daughter in a shopping mall in Salisbury, England. Doctors found they had been poisoned by a rare “Novichok” nerve agent developed by the USSR; three police officers who responded to the incident also suffered nerve agent poisoning.
These two attacks bookend a number of other suspicious deaths. Anti-Putin businessman Boris Berezovsky was found hanged at his home in 2013. Another businessman, Alexander Perepiilichny, died while jogging in 2012; tests found traces of a rare Chinese plant which can cause cardiac arrest. Up to a dozen other defectors have met suspicious ends in the UK, which is a favorite destination for escapees from Russia.
Russia has denied any involvement in these killings, of course, but their denials aren’t serious. In fact, it often looks like they’re sending pretty obvious signals; Litvinenko’s killers left a trail of radioactive breadcrumbs on a flight back to Moscow, and the latest attack used a nerve agent that’s only ever been produced in Russia. TV presenters regularly joke about how unhealthy the UK is for defectors.
It’s obvious that Russia sees the elimination of defectors as a legitimate tactic. They’ve been doing it for decades, all over the world – a KGB defector who helped get Gary Powers out of a Soviet prison died in a suspicious car crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1961, for example. But the recent attacks show a worrying escalation.
Radiological weapons like polonium-210, and chemical ones like Novichok-5, are legally classed as weapons of mass destruction. Russia is using them, pretty openly, on the streets of a foreign country – a nuclear-armed foreign country that’s the number two power in NATO, second only to the USA. That says a lot about Putin’s confidence in his ability to ignore the west. Any politician in a western country, whether it’s the USA, the UK or the almost disarmed EU, who still wants to cut defense spending needs to sit back and think about whose side they’re really on.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.