“This kind of decisions are approved in the Kremlin at the highest level,” former KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky said when I asked him on the phone about murders committed by the Soviet secret services abroad.
I have never seen Col. Gordievsky, who defected to the West in 1985, in person, and the now historic interview took place with the help of third persons and by calling a temporary number.
Gordievsky spoke with me well before the poisoning of his former colleague Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006 and the chemical attack on March 4, 2018, in Salisbury – the attempt on the life of former Russian military intelligence Colonel Sergei Skripal.
We talked about the first instances when the KGB used specially devised poisons to kill the prominent Ukrainian figures Lev Rebet in 1957 and Stepan Bandera in 1959 in Munich.
Moscow managed to hide its black work for several years because the killers’ special pistol shot with potassium cyanide vapors, leaving no traces.
Only the confession of the defector agent Bohdan Stashynsky at the trial in Germany in October 1962 revealed all the details of the KGB’s covert operations.
Gordievsky did not believe much the assurances of the last Soviet KGB head Kriuchkov that the assassination of Bandera was the last one the Kremlin secret services committed abroad.
Soviet lethal-potion laboratories went on working, which was proved, in particular, by poisoning Bulgarian dissident Georgy Markov to death in 1978 in London.
After the March 4 attack in Salisbury, British Prime Minister Theresa May began to face the problem which has been emerging with startling regularity since the last century: how to force Moscow to respect human life and the sovereignty of other countries?
London did not, does not, and will not believe the objections or excuses of the Kremlin which has already denied being implicated in poisoning former Russian military intelligence Colonel Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in quiet English town.
“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” May said in parliament on Monday, issuing an ultimatum to Moscow.
The question is what Britain can do to put across to Putin its determination to protect the country from the arbitrariness of Russian state-sponsored killers.
The expulsion of Russian diplomats and a likely partial boycott of the world soccer championship in Moscow would be just symbolic, albeit resonant, steps.
What would be a most staggering blow to many influential Russians is the freezing of their assets in the British financial system.
But the first thing London needs if it wants to seriously counteract Russia is cohesion of its Western allies because sanctions will have a stronger impact if the West takes a coordinated stand.
“WESTERN DEMOCRACIES MUST TAKE SYSTEMIC PREVENTIVE MEASURES”
Volodymyr VASYLENKO, Doctor of Law, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine:
“If British law-enforcement bodies have gathered sufficient evidence of poisoning a former citizen of Russia and GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) officer, the British have the right to demand explanations of how and why Russian agents operate on the territory of a severing state, thus endangering the life of people. From this angle, the demand of the British prime minister to Russia is absolutely lawful.
“Scenarios of this kind occur repeatedly – it is the style of Russian special services whose unlawful actions are approved by Russia’s top leadership. They are aimed at punishing the people who have decided, for certain reasons, to pass information about the activity of Russian special services abroad to foreign governments.
“This behavior of Russia shows that it flouts international law and carries out covert operations on the territory of other states, thus violating their sovereignty. These actions endanger and claim human lives. This kind of Russian behavior must be regarded in the light of other unlawful and unfriendly actions aimed against the West and expected to weaken stability and law-and-order in Western countries, create a tense situation in society, and, in the long run, undermine the principles and foundations on which public life rests in Western civilizations.
“Such events have also occurred in Britain before. The UK has more than once expelled Russian diplomats involved in the activity that runs counter to their diplomatic status. Russia’s unlawful actions are regarded as individual occurrences, whereas they should be viewed in conjunction with previous similar actions which do not comply with international law and undermine international law and order. For example, Russia’s first and second wars in Chechnya amounted to the total extermination of that region’s population. However, the Western community showed no adequate reaction to those crimes. Then came aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, threats to use force against NATO member states that border on Russia, criminal use of force against the civilian population of Syria and destruction of the infrastructure there. Russia is constantly showing disrespect for international law. Isolated reaction to some of the Russian violations produces no desirable effect. By its behavior, Russia is systemically threatening global peace and undermining international law and order. Therefore, the international community should take systemic actions in response in order to at least force that country to behave in a civilized way.
“Obviously, it would be lawful and advisable if Western democracies resolved to form an anti-Putin coalition, as they once did against Hitler. For a soft reaction to only some of Russia’s unlawful actions only encourages its leadership to take further aggressive actions which undermine international law and order. This behavior of Russia, aimed against certain countries, undermines international law and order as a whole and endangers peace in the world. Therefore, Western democracies should react adequately and take systemic preventive measures to force Russia to behave in a civilized way and bear responsibility for the damage done to certain states and the international community as a whole.”
Bohdan Tsiupyn is a London-based Ukrainian journalist