There seems to be some debate, if extrajudicial killings commited by intelligence services are legal and what laws they are breaking.

Famous historical examples are the killings committed by the Mossad. The USA commits killings in the Middle East with drones on a regular basis. There seem to be little to no consequences for killings like these.

But what legal consequences can Russia face, if it is proven that they ordered the hit on Skripal? Are there at least laws that could in theory lead to consequences for Russia?

Let's assume that Russia's culpability could be proven, for the sake of the argument.

  • It's possible that government officials (possibly including heads of state) could be prosecuted under their own countries' laws or extradited to other countries. This could be asked in a separate question. Mar 20, 2018 at 16:12

2 Answers 2


World War I was triggered by a single assassination, but there isn't anyone seriously considering that option in this case. What seems quite a bit more likely is a continuation of the same tit-for-tat diplomacy of expelling diplomats and introducing new sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations that do business in the UK. There has been some speculation of the UK Goverment "appropriating" (or "seizing") Russian citizens' property owned in the United Kingdom based on the Criminal Finances Act of 2017:

The government could use the Criminal Finances Act, a law approved in 2017, to force Russians who may be implicated in the attack, or have close ties to Putin, to explain how they purchased property in the UK.

If they are unable to prove that the property was purchased with legitimate funds, it could be seized.

There is also increased attention to passing a UK version of the Magnitsky Act. The U.S. version allows freezing of assets for those suspected of being involved in human rights abuses which many would argue poisoning would qualify, but it's unclear yet on what exactly a U.K. version would include.

I would not expect there to be absolute beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt proof of anything any time soon, short of Russia admitting it. But that's more a statement on the nature of international intrigue in general.


But what legal consequences can Russia face [..]?


A country is not a (legal) person, so legally cannot commit crimes. As a result, a country cannot be convicted either.

Even if the culprit is found and convicted, that doesn't have any legal consequence for whatever country he/she is coming from.

Note that there are many diplomatic consequences that could be applied, but none of those are legally required.

  • 2
    Aren't there any contracts or agreements? International law? Mar 20, 2018 at 7:32
  • 1
    @user1721135 agreed, this seems to cut-and-dry
    – user10303
    Mar 20, 2018 at 19:19
  • 2
    @user1721135 "International law" is not a law, despite the name.
    – Sjoerd
    Mar 21, 2018 at 21:26

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