The motive attributed to the poisonings basically sounds like, "They spoke out against Putin and/or Russia, so Putin had them poisoned." The thing that bothers me about this motive, is that, of all the poisonings attributed to Russia and/or Putin, Navalny is the only person who had/has any reasonable amount of people to support and listen to what he says. Litvinenko, Skripal had no real auditory that would/could make them dangerous, until they became martyred by western media.

I mean, maybe the first poisoning was a mistake, maybe analytics and/or advisors thought that no one would care, and it would all go over quietly, but that only explains one incident, but what about the rest? Even so, I highly doubt that anyone at all cared enough about these people to dedicate time and resources to developing and executing a plan to liquidate them.

So the question is - how valid is the motive to kill some no-name who can reach out to no more than a couple hundred dissidents, if that just makes them a martyr and gives them more publicity postmortem?

  • 1
    Valid according to who?
    – F1Krazy
    Jan 14, 2022 at 13:58
  • fyi Skripal had been a spy and a double agent. Doesn't justify alleged poisoning, but somewhat different motivational context from that of a political dissident
    – Pete W
    Jan 14, 2022 at 19:10
  • did any of these poisonings actually make anyone a martyr and give them postmortem publicity beyond a couple media cycles?
    – eps
    Jan 14, 2022 at 22:03
  • 3
    This sounds very opinion-based, unfortunately.
    – Allure
    Jan 14, 2022 at 23:56
  • 1
    Why are you calling Litvinenko a nobody when a quick look at Wikipedia shows otherwise? He was a prominent intelligence defector who helped law-enforcement against Russian plots, also writing books about it. Jan 16, 2022 at 19:00

2 Answers 2


This is not about removing a threat posed by the murdered individuals. Instead, these actions send a message to anyone else who might consider speaking out against Putin that they too could be targeted - and that "the West" is unable to keep them safe. That is also why they've used rare, detectable poisons rathern than some method of assassination that could easily be mistaken for an accident or a non-political killing (eg burglary gone wrong).

  • But in this case, there are much cheaper and simpler ways to "send the message"
    – MishaP
    Jan 14, 2022 at 10:49
  • Also it would make sense to target more popular individuals.
    – MishaP
    Jan 14, 2022 at 10:56
  • 5
    @MishaP It isn't directed at the world at large, it's directed at those in government or intelligence circles who might think of defecting or "betraying" Putin. That's why it's Skripal and Litvinenko who are targeted.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 14, 2022 at 12:52
  • @StuartF but, whether your audience is world at large, or government and intelligence, there are still cheaper, simpler and louder methods and targets to choose from. Furthermore, if the audience is government and intelligence, there's no point in using something that so obviously points to Russia. So how valid is the motive, for these specific, reasonably quiet/non-public individuals to be targeted by Russia in the first place, and why would Russia want to leave a "calling card" for killing these particular low-impact individuals? It doesn't add up for me, I don't see the logic.
    – MishaP
    Jan 17, 2022 at 10:29
  • @MishaP: Part of using the more expensive approach is to send the message that if they try to bail, not only will they be caught, but that the traitor can't rely on Russia "Sparing expenses" and getting a cheaper plan just because it's cheaper. Jan 19, 2022 at 6:36

The answer is based on the assumption that Russia indeed assassinated Skripal, which was never officially confirmed by the Russian official.

The famous quote from Putin, from the times of Chechen war, was:

If they're in the airport," Putin said, "we'll kill them there ... and excuse me, but if we find them in the toilet, we'll exterminate them in their outhouses

(translation after https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90083829&t=1642363228549)

This explain the motive. It's about the message. If you're a traitor, a terrorist or attempts coup d'état, remember, there's no place on Earth you can hide, you will never ever be safe.

This is the same motive that lead to the assassination of Osama bin Ladin, with that difference, that U.S. openly bragged about it, while Russian prefer more nuanced message, that nevertheless will be easy to decipher.

  • Full quote (google translate) We will pursue terrorists everywhere: at the airport - at the airport, so you'll excuse me, if we catch them in the toilet - we will soak them in the toilet, in the end. That's it, the issue is closed completely. Basically the same thing as "we don't negotiate with terrorists", Using this to explain killing political opposition, means that the US govt is just as likely to kill political opposition.
    – MishaP
    Jan 17, 2022 at 10:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .