AN INQUIRY into the death of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko concluded that his killing in 2006 was “probably” ordered by the Russian Government.
But as Theresa May points the finger at Russia for being behind another poisoning of an ex-spy – does President Putin actually have the power to order targeted killings?
Uunder relatively new Russian laws, President Putin has unprecedented powers to permit foreign killings abroad if the person is accused of extremism or terrorism.
New legislation that was introduced in 2006 means that the Russian President has the power to use the country’s armed forces and special services outside of its borders to combat threats.
The Russian rules were specific in that it allowed the President alone – and without consultation – to take such a decision.
Britain, America and other countries carry out targeted killings on foreign soil too – but a number of people are informed and consulted first, not just the Prime Minister.
Whereas President Putin is not obliged to say where the operation took place, who was involved, or the timetable for the execution – but he does have to inform the Federation Council within five days.
In the wake of the death of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, it was feared that Russian spy agencies – “emboldened” by a new law – have carried out more targeted killings.
As well as anyone seeking to overthrow the government, amendments to other laws covered people causing “mass disturbances, committing hooliganism or acts of vandalism”.
Experts have said that the law could be used as an excuse for the Sergei Skripal poisoning.
Natasha Kuhrt, a Russia specialist at King’s College, London, told EuroNews that “if as the law says that anyone can be targeted who is designated as an enemy/danger to the Russian state within or without Russia, then someone like Skripal could be targeted.”
But other experts disagreed. John Russell, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Security Studies at the University of Bradford, said it was highly unlikely that a nerve agent would have been used in this way under those laws.
And legal experts William Simons and Mikhail Antonov told Euronews: “The alleged poisoning in Salisbury would… not fit the case of a ‘counter-terrorist operation’ under RF [Russian Federation] law.”
British financier Bill Browder told the Times today he did not believe that an attempt to kill a former spy would have been made without Putin knowing.
What is Novichok and was the nerve agent used to poison ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal?
NOVICHOK nerve agents were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s
Novichok – the Russian for newcomer or newbie – is the name for a series of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s.
They are said to be the deadliest nerve agents ever created and reported to be five times more potent than the notorious VX gas.
It is made of two relatively harmless materials which become fatal when mixed together, making it easier to transport under the radar.
“It is designed to be undetectable for any standard chemical security testing, ” Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon told the Express.
Novichok agents, dispersed as an ultra-fine powder rather than vapour, belong to the class of inhibitors called “organophosphate acetylcholinesterase”.
They prevent the normal breakdown of a neurotransmitter acetylcholine which, when it builds up, causes muscles to contract involuntarily.
Because the victim’s heart and diaphragm aren’t functioning properly, this leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest.
Those affected usually die from total heart failure or suffocation as copious fluid secretions fill their lungs.
But even if they don’t die from the nerve agent, the substance can also cause permanent nerve damage, leaving victims permanently disabled, Russian scientists have said.
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And it was revealed that President Putin issued an order for a passenger airliner to be shot down after he was told it could be carrying a bomb and heading for Russia.
In a new documentary film called ‘Putin’, the Russian leader said: “I told them: act according to the plan.”
But it later turned out to be a false alarm.