More than a year ago, in the small British town of Salisbury, agents of the GRU (military intelligence of Russia) poisoned a former Russian double agent and former GRU colonel, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, who came from Moscow to visit her father. (For simplicity, we will use the well-established abbreviations of the GRU, KGB, etc., even if their current names are different.)
Skripal was recruited in 1995 by Pablo Miller, a British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, better known by the acronym “MI6”) agent in Madrid. MI6 assigned Skripal his spy nickname: “Forthwith.” After a successful espionage service under diplomatic cover in Madrid, Tallinn, and Warsaw, Miller retired and settled in the small town of Salisbury in the south of England, about 80 miles from London.
Skripal was at that time sitting in a Russian prison. In 2010, an exchange of spies took place in Vienna (Russia gave up four convicts for espionage, including Skripal, the United States ten.) Skripal accepted the offer of his former curator and settled near him in the same town of Salisbury.
What is missing in the Skripal poisoning case is the motive. If one looks at what happened superficially, there was basically no need for the intelligence services of Russia to kill Skripal. Yes, there is every reason to believe that after Putin came to power in 2000, Russia managed to eliminate objectionable former Russian citizens who moved to the U.K. at a speed of about one loud murder per year. However, all these killings have a clear motive: all the victims of the Kremlin were viewed as active opponents of Putin’s regime.
However, Skripal was never an opponent of the Kremlin. On the contrary, he strongly supported the policies of President Putin, and, although he received a pension from the British government, he remains a citizen of Russia and does not hide his satisfaction with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.
Skripal is a person of outstanding intelligence and analytical skills, fluent in several languages. However, he found himself having difficulty understanding the exact motives of the Kremlin. According to the doctors, after Skripal woke up (five weeks after the poisoning), he needed a “difficult psychological correction” to finally come to terms with the idea that his former colleagues from the GRU had attempted to assassinate him and his daughter.
Russia’s participation in the poisoning looked irrational and illogical. Why did the Kremlin wait eight years after Skripal’s pardon to deal with him? Skripal lived in Salisbury openly, under his own name, and there was no need to look for him. Why was it necessary to wait so long, and wait until his daughter suddenly came to him? Why break the centuries-old unwritten rules scrupulously followed by all the intelligence agencies of the world, which indicate that a spy exposed and pardoned by the head of the state is no longer dangerous? Why does Putin need all these problems just two weeks before the presidential elections in Russia? Why does Russia need all this headache just a few months before the World Cup?
The answer can be only one: the reason why the Kremlin had to deal with Skripal was much more serious than the World Cup and Putin’s guaranteed re-election combined.
It had to be so serious that two GRU colonels — Anatoly Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin — were sent to Salisbury (perhaps they also had accomplices). Mishkin is a military doctor who knew perfectly well that the A-234 substance given to him was a unitary (that is, ready-to-use) chemical weapon (as opposed to its binary version, better known as “Novichok”).
At the time when Pablo Miller was recruiting spies for Great Britain, Christopher Steele was the head of MI6 in Moscow. After returning to London and retiring in 2009, Christopher Steele founded private intelligence corporation “Orbis Business Intelligence.” Allegedly, Pablo Miller, a former recruiter, curator, and now one of Skripal’s friends and neighbors, got a job at Orbis.
Therefore, when Christopher Steele received an order for fabrication of the “dossier” on Trump, the fate of an unsuspecting and innocent Skripal was sealed.
The story could have evolved quite differently if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election. Then there would be no investigation of the “Russian case” by the Mueller team, the White House, or the U.S. Congress. However, Trump won the election, and it became clear to the Kremlin that sooner or later, the investigation by the new White House administration would reveal the true role played by the Russian intelligence services in the 2016 presidential election, including the stuffing of compromising materials on Trump through Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Christopher Steele, being the head of the Russian Desk at MI6, was the personal curator of Alexander Litvinenko, and in 2006, he took an active part in the investigation of Litvinenko’s poisoning with radioactive polonium-210 in London. In his investigation, Steele utilized all of his extensive contacts, including those among the Russian spy agencies.
Ten years later, in 2016, a retired Steele maintained contact with some “friendly” Moscow intelligence officers. These “friends” played with him in the dark and used him as the disinformation channel to spread the GRU’s dossier on Trump. Through a chain of intermediaries (Fusion GPS and Perkins Coie), the dossier had reached Hillary Clinton, who was the main paymaster.
Why did Steele, with all of his experience, miss this obvious disinformation campaign in 2016?
Christopher Steele is known to be an extremely left-wing mind, and he quite aggressively tried to help his transatlantic ideological soulmate, Hillary Clinton, to win the presidential election.
Unlike the Litvinenko and FIFA cases, the order for dirt on Trump was unquestionably political. Steele understood that the choice of his company from a variety of other similar firms was based precisely on his ideological preferences. Therefore, Steele included in the “Russian dossier” not only obvious disinformation (for example, the “visit of Trump’s lawyer Cohen to Prague”), but also many other vivid, unlikely, and highly desirable moments for the paymaster (for example, Trump’s scene with prostitutes in Moscow hotel).
Why did Steele, well acquainted with the methods of Russian intelligence, allow the GRU to fool him this time? Steele had a sincere desire to believe that everything the “reliable Russian sources” had thrown at him was right.
In an attempt to monetize the dirty work, Steele was selling the “Russian dossier” not only to Hillary Clinton, but also to everyone interested. Among the buyers were the FBI and (possibly) the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. At least, at this time, Steele worked for Deripaska (although the details of their business are unknown).
In order to achieve the main strategic political objective, Steele also distributed several copies of the fake dossier from the GRU free of charge — to the high-ranking DOJ official Bruce Ohr, as well as to several journalists and politicians.
Oddly enough, Skripal’s poisoning was triggered not by the actions of the Trump administration, but by the indictment put forward by Mueller’s team against 13 Russians from the “troll factory” on February 16, 2018.
On this day, the Kremlin realized that the noose is being tightened, and, from the Kremlin’s point of view, it does not matter at all whether the Trump team or the Mueller team did it. Under no circumstances would Moscow have allowed the GRU to be called a true source of the “Russian dossier” on Trump. The Kremlin urgently needed to send world public opinion to a false direction.
The Kremlin considered the nonexistent Steele-Miller-Skripal link as a convenient and timely combination of circumstances, an opportunity that it could not pass up. Putin’s regime had to prove that it was not Russian intelligence services who composed the “Russian dossier.” The Kremlin needed to send the investigation on the wrong track — ostensibly, this Skripal was the very “source close to the Kremlin” of Christopher Steele. Moreover, supposedly, this is precisely why the buyers of the “Russian dossier” decided to eliminate Skripal.
In other words, the Skripal poisoning was a cover-up operation of the Kremlin, the purpose of which was to send the “ObamaGate” investigation in a false direction.
For the Kremlin, killing Skripal looked like a pretty attractive move that would explain much, if not all, to the court of public opinion. It would explain the fact that the “author of the dossier” sufficiently “knew Russian material” and the fact that the linguistic analysis of the “dossier” showed that the text was written grammatically correctly and formatted according to MI6 reporting standards but that the author is not a native English speaker.
The fate of Skripal was decided — the agent “Forthwith” had to be terminated immediately.
Mueller charged Russian programmers on the Friday evening, February 16, as it became customary for his team to do. It was already Saturday night in Moscow. Most likely, the decision to kill Skripal was made on Monday, February 19. An incredibly short time was allocated for the operation — just two weeks. There was no time for rigorous preparation. Exactly two weeks later, on March 4, 2018, Skripal was poisoned.
In 2016, intelligence services of many countries worked against Trump — the United States, Britain, Russia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Australia, Italy, and Ukraine (unfortunately, this list only grows over time). The list has one exception — the Russian intelligence worked against all of them: against Trump, against Clinton, and against all other intelligence services.
The GRU’s attempt to sell dirt on Hillary Clinton at Trump’s campaign headquarters failed (recall the Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya, who played a role in the attempt), but another attempt was successful. It was this operation of the GRU that Skripal’s murder was supposed to cover up.
After Trump’s victory, the British MI6 and GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA) found themselves in an unusually sensitive situation. On the one hand, the GRU (as well as the KGB) has always been their traditional adversary. On the other hand, in 2016, MI6, as well as the CIA and FBI, found themselves on the same anti-Trump side of the barricades while trying to influence the presidential elections in the United States.
That is why the (in many ways contradictory) information that reaches the press from Scotland Yard in the case of Skripal poisoning causes dissatisfaction not only in Great Britain, but also abroad. However, such criticism is groundless. The investigation is conducted by real professionals, but their hands are tied up with the fact that many British officials were seriously involved in a much larger scandal: in interference with American elections.
The failure of the cover-up operation, and with it the failure of the main political operation of the GRU against the United States, caused a series of unexplained deaths among high-ranking Russian intelligence officers. Just a month after the promulgation of the real names of the GRU assassins who poisoned Skripal, the head of the GRU, General Igor Korobov, 63, which usually burst with health and energy, suddenly died.
It is too early to put a matter in the case of Skripal’s poisoning to rest. The less time is left until the presidential election of 2020, the less comfortable Barack Obama, the organizer of the international anti-Trump conspiracy of the intelligence agencies, will feel, waiting for Trump’s inevitable retaliatory step.
However, if American and British knights of the cloak and dagger are threatened only by the termination of their careers and loss of reputations and, possibly, pensions (but not lives), then for the Russian intelligence services (and for Russia as a whole), difficult times will come. Russia has, since Stalin’s era, from the mid-1930s, not stopped trying to influence the political processes in America. Never before have these attempts led to such a catastrophic failure.
[Originally published at American Thinker]