What would the Kremlin stand to gain from assassinating the ex-spy Sergey Skripal, now critically ill after being poisoned on March 4th 2018 with a nerve agent?


5 Answers 5


Skripal was a double-agent who used to work for the Russian secret service GRU but defected to the UK intelligence service MI6. He was arrested by the Russians in 2004. In 2010, he was officially pardoned and exiled to the UK as part of a prisoners exchange. So he is unlikely to still possess any not yet revealed intelligence which still has any value.

Still, assassinating him sends a clear message to any other would-be defectors in the Russian secret services: "Do not defect! Other countries can not protect you from us. Even if you somehow manage to get an official pardon, we will still be out there to get you. And we will also get your family."

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    To me the most confusing part is that he was exchanged; this attack devaluates whatever prisoners exchange Russia may propose in the future. And, in a more speculative tone, I would not forget the incoming Russian election (18th March) and the convenience of a foreign crisis as a rallying point in favor of the government and an opportunity to show a hard posture (I know Putin is virtually guaranted to win, but I think he wants an overwhelming victory).
    – SJuan76
    Mar 13, 2018 at 15:26
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    @SJuan76 - you're assuming that (1) Russia cares about future exchanges. That's not nearly assured (2) Russia cares more than the West (meaning, even this event would not prevent the West from still wishing to engage since they care about people's lives more, both intrinsically and as a brand).
    – user4012
    Mar 13, 2018 at 16:27
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    @SJuan76: Two good logical (!) reasons to doubt the ongoing rhetoric generated by Western governments in a void of actual evidence (!) Mar 13, 2018 at 17:00
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Actually only my first point (target selection) would go against the idea of Russian implication. The second one would be an additional point in favor of the Russian implication claim, as it would benefit Putin (reinforcing his image as a strongman and as a rallying point to ask to support a government attacked by foreign countries claims). In any way, neither of these is more than a speculation (at least for me) and to this point I am certainly not challenging the police findings (specially related to the method of attack) in any way.
    – SJuan76
    Mar 13, 2018 at 17:18
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    I believe the upcoming election is an important facet in this, and the answer would be enhanced by including that
    – Gramatik
    Mar 13, 2018 at 19:56

In addition to @Philipp's answer:

Poisoned Russian spy Sergei Skripal was close to {an unnamed} consultant who was linked to the Trump dossierThe Telegraph

If the above allegation is true, it could be that Skripal was somehow related to the Collusion, and the poisoning of him could be just a revenge for his betrayal.

Since the recent events are developing rapidly, we probably can't answer a single reason. It can also be a combination of several factors.

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    I think this is the best answer. If Skripal was linked to the dossier, that means that he was engaging in espionage against Russia even after being released in the prisoner exchange. Russia was sending a message to other former assets: "Once you retire, stay retired."
    – user151841
    Mar 13, 2018 at 17:33
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    While I'm just a regular Joe and for sure don't knows what's happening behind the curtains one thing I can guess about espionage. It's all about building a network. Even a "retired" double agent will have lot's of acquaintances and can be used to make the right people to shake hands and this solely can link him to whatever conspiracy theory you do like. At the bottom line we even don't know if it was Putin or russia work (and that's make OP question invaluable)
    – jean
    Mar 13, 2018 at 20:29
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    surely you mean "the alleged collusion" rather than "the collusion".
    – einpoklum
    Mar 16, 2018 at 13:44
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    @einpoklum, "the Collusion", capitalized, as a proper noun for "the alleged collusion and the asserted investigation of the alleged collusion". :-) Mar 17, 2018 at 6:22
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    Again following the same reasoning one can also easily show that UK intelligence actors would be incentivised to eliminate Skripal to protect their reputation. The dossier is widely discredited.
    – Sentinel
    Apr 2, 2018 at 8:32

I have the feeling Russia has more to lose than to gain. After deploying an obvious trace by using a chemical weapon, it faces penalties by the EU, approved by the USA and further separation from the west (which the USA pushed since years).

On the "what Russia gains" side we have a demonstration of power, by elimination of an insignificant spy. Maybe there is also some deterrence in case other spies decide to change the sides. However, deterrence can be achieved with more subtile ways too.

  • Does any of that really harm the Kremlin, though? Mar 16, 2018 at 10:07
  • This should be addressed in a separate Question, like "Who benefits from the resulting 'separation from the west' ?" or however you describe it. Mar 16, 2018 at 16:03
  • This would be an easy question :)
    – user16984
    Mar 16, 2018 at 16:09

While all the secrets he knew about would already have been transferred in 2010, he would still pose a potential danger via his personal relationships with his former colleagues and their family members and friends. While this is pure speculation, it is possible that Mi6 had tried to use Skripal to recruit new spies and that the Russians had found that out.

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    Wouldn't they in this case try to keep the case under the radar, as their own involvement in the issue might turn against them?
    – Tom
    Mar 14, 2018 at 9:21
  • @Tom Not if it was not Russia after all. My preferred conspiracy theory it was not Russia but someone blaming that on them
    – jean
    Mar 14, 2018 at 14:46

Russia gains nothing. Whatever knowledge the spy had, has been transferred by now.

"Sending a message to potential defectors" is not needed at all. A potential defector would be well informed enough - just by being a spy - to know that no place in the world is safe (the Mossad proved that long ago when going after Nazis all over the world). The fact that many defectors don't even try to hide their whereabouts after a couple of years is evidence that defectors know they will never be safe.

On the other hand, various anti-Russia groups gain something by this poisoning: being able to point fingers at Russia.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Mar 15, 2018 at 3:05
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    So you're saying that Putin is a clown who has no idea what is going on in Russia and the Russian Military is so incompetent that they can neither secure nor keep track of their chemical weapons? Sounds plausible. Mar 15, 2018 at 20:28
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    @HannoverFist No, I'm not saying that - you just want to read that.
    – Sjoerd
    Mar 15, 2018 at 21:13
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    "Sending a message to potential defectors" is not needed at all. A potential defector would be well informed enough - just by being a spy - to know that no place in the world is safe" But the message isn't that 'we can get you'; it is 'we will get you'
    – user19831
    Mar 16, 2018 at 12:15
  • @HannoverFist That Russia's government features rogue sub-groups sounds indeed plausible, given how corrupt even the traffic police are.
    – John
    Jan 2, 2020 at 14:01

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