BUZZFEED: The story of this ring of death illuminates one of the most disturbing geopolitical trends of our time – the use of assassinations by Russia’s secret services and powerful mafia groups to wipe out opponents around the globe – and the failure of British authorities to confront it. The intelligence pointing to a campaign of targeted killings in Britain comes amid mounting international concern that the Kremlin is brazenly interfering in the West, and as the investigation into Russian ties to President Donald Trump’s advisers gathers pace.
The Russian government passed new laws giving its agents a licence to kill enemies of the state abroad in 2006, the same year two assassins from the FSB, Russia’s spy agency, flew to London to poison the defector and one-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium. Last year, a British public inquiry found that Vladimir Putin had likely approved that assassination in an act of nuclear terrorism in the British capital that was impossible for the government to ignore. But high-ranking intelligence sources said other less glaringly obvious assassinations have gone unpunished.
Russian assassins have been able to kill in Britain with impunity over the past decade, 17 current and former British and American intelligence officials told BuzzFeed News. The reasons for Britain’s reticence, they said, include fear of retaliation, police incompetence, and a desire to preserve the billions of pounds of Russian money that pour into British banks and properties each year. As a result, Russia is making what one source called increasingly “bold moves” in the UK without fear of reprisals.
Prime minister Theresa May is facing growing calls to respond to claims that her government has concealed evidence relating to Russian assassinations in Britain. In her six years as home secretary, she spearheaded the British government’s response to national security threats and presided over cuts of £2.3 billion from the national law enforcement budget that several senior officers have blamed for a drastic reduction in police capabilities. May personally intervened to delay the public inquiry into Litvinenko’s death, citing the need to protect “international relations” with Russia. And in the Perepilichnyy case, her government has withheld sensitive evidence from the inquest on “national security” grounds. Downing Street, the Home Office and Scotland Yard did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The core reason British authorities have turned a blind eye, a current senior national security adviser to the British government told BuzzFeed News, is fear. Ministers, he said, were not prepared to take the “political risk of dealing firmly and effectively in whatever way with the activities of the Russian state and Russian-organised crime in the UK” because the Kremlin could inflict massive harm on Britain by unleashing cyberattacks, destabilising the economy, or mobilising elements of Britain’s large Russian population to “cause disruption”. Deep law enforcement funding cuts mean “our capabilities are very weak”, he said. It was also impossible to rule out the risk of “general war with Russia” in the current climate, he said, and “if it were to happen it would happen very, very rapidly, and we would be entirely unprepared”. As a result, he concluded, ministers “desperately don’t want to antagonise the Russians” and senior figures in government had told him bluntly that there was “no political appetite to deal with the Russian Federation”. MORE