When the Russian authorities pursued the goal of assassinating the leader of the political opposition, the method they used assumed that the poison would be untraceable as they had already tried it out twice at lower doses and neither Naval’ny nor his wife who received them had any idea what had occurred.
They must have also assumed that this would be an entirely domestic matter – unlike the disastrous Skrypal’ affair that occurred in the English home counties – and that even if others suspected foul play by President Putin, they would be unable to prove it. Those European countries hoping for better relations with Russia, like Germany, could then carry on as normal, glowing in the winter warmth courtesy of Russian gas and living like Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, expecting the best in the best possible of all worlds.
So the failure of the plot to kill Naval’ny that resulted in his hurried, though delayed, departure for medical treatment in Germany came as a shock in Moscow. The assurances that the president had been given that, given the delay in travel, no one would be able to detect Novichok in Naval’ny’s body also proved unreliable.
So instead of disposing of his worthy opponent in an act without any unpleasant consequences for him, Putin’s action boomeranged. It has actually accelerated the imposition of further sanctions against the country’s élite with the passing of the EU equivalent of the Magnitsky act. The Magnitsky act passed by the US Congress is directed to punish those implicated in Russian abuses of human rights. It originated with the direct descendant of the general secretary of the US Communist Party, both of his grandparents officers of Soviet military intelligence, and one-time investment star in the Russian market, Mr Bill Browder, now a British citizen. The Russian authorities had tortured and murdered Magnitsky, Browder’s brave lawyer in Moscow. Mr Browder is not about to forgive and forget and his pursuit of Vladimir Putin and his people has all the character of a Sicilian vendetta.
It is hard to think of a case of blowback that has been more catastrophic for the Russian régime. Even dialogue between Moscow and Brussels has been thrown into doubt, as Nezavisimaya gazeta revealed yesterday:
2. Лавров допустил возможность прекращения диалога с Брюсселем
Отношения России и ЕС достигли низшего уровня