All eyes on Russia as ex-spy still ‘critical’

Hit-list: Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found slumped on a bench.

What is Russia up to? Ex-spy Sergei Skripal is still critically ill after being poisoned in Salisbury. The Russian government stands accused. Now attention turns to its wider schemes.

Just over a week ago, a 60-year-old man bought a scratchcard from a newsagents in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Then he visited a pub and a pizza restaurant, Zizzi, with his daughter.

They are now seriously ill. They are Sergei Skripal, an ex-Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia. They were poisoned by a deadly nerve agent at the restaurant, and have been in a coma ever since. We do not know if they will recover.

Up to 500 Salisbury pub-goers and diners have been told to wash their possessions as a precaution.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd refused to speculate on whether the Russian state might have been involved, but Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh said the circumstantial evidence against Russia was “very strong”, warning that if the Kremlin was implicated it would be a “brazen act of war” aimed at “humiliating our country”.

Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has warned of the “ever-greater threat” posed by Russia. The world’s largest country is menacing the West once again.

Really? Why? What on earth is going on? These are the bewildered questions on everyone’s lips.

It has been a generation since Russians were in the business of shaping the destiny of the world. But in recent years Russia has been attempting to re-establish its place as a superpower.

The list is familiar: intervention in Ukraine and annexing Crimea, meddling in Syria, alleged hacking of the US election, hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup to present Russia as a strong, modern, confident nation. Just yesterday, they tested a hypersonic missile that can travel 10 times the speed of sound.

When this resurgence first started, many assumed it was a question of regaining power over the vast areas it ruled during Soviet times. But now something more sinister seems to be at play.

Intelligence chief Sir Chris Deverell said they seek to “steal, plant, manipulate, distort, destroy our information”. If they were responsible for the attack on Skripal, its drawn-out, graphic nature would seem designed to intimidate Britain and the West.

Just how evil is Russia?

Eastern menace

Look at the facts, say some. Russia kills its opponents at home and abroad. It rigs elections at home and abroad, and it menaces its neighbours. Its online presence is directly aimed at climbing inside the mind of the West and rewiring it to suit its own interests. How much more evidence do we need to show how grave a threat Russia is?

Calm down, reply others. We are jumping to far too many conclusions. As Peter Hitchens writes in the Mail Online, remember the “Policeman’s ABC”: Assume nothing. Believe nobody. Check everything. Russia is a messy, complex place, and we have no evidence that Vladimir Putin ordered this.

You Decide

  1. Can it be right to describe a country as “evil”?
  2. Did the Cold War ever really end?


  1. “We talk too much about Russia and too little about China.” As a class, discuss this statement.
  2. Write a two-minute speech, to give to your country’s government, on how to deal with Russia.

Some People Say...

“Nothing will stop Russia on the road to strengthening democracy and ensuring human rights.”

Vladimir Putin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Sergei Skripal and his daughter are still in critical condition after being poisoned by a deadly nerve agent in the city of Salisbury. This is not the first time a high profile Russian has been poisoned in mysterious circumstances in Britain. 12 years ago a former KGB agent-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko died after Polonium-210 was slipped into his cup of tea in London.
What do we not know?
Whether the Russian state, and even President Vladimir Putin himself, were behind this. We also do not yet know exactly which nerve agent Skripal was poisoned with. It could have been VX — the deadly liquid smeared on the face of the dissident brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Word Watch

Sergei Skripal
A former military intelligence colonel in Russia, Skripal was convicted in 2006 of spying for the UK. The Russian secret service accused him of passing on the identities of Russian secret agents in exchange for money. He was later pardoned, and moved to the UK in 2010 as part of a spy swap.
Home of the Russian government.
Gavin Williamson
Williamson has been defence secretary since November last year.
Intervention in Ukraine
Russia sees the Ukrainian situation very differently from the West. They believe that the West had interfered with Ukraine’s neutrality by encouraging the coup against President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
The Soviet Union, led by Russia, dominated Eastern Europe from 1922 to 1991.
Kills its opponents
For example, Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered the alleged theft of £150 million by Russian tax officials and police officers, died in a Moscow prison in 2013. An investigation by Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council also found that he had been severely beaten — an allegation made by his family too.

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