Had Vladimir Putin been able to predict the consequences of his hybrid war strategy both against Ukraine and the entire West, he would have thought twice. After all, indeed, he could have foreseen sanctions, economic decline and people's impoverishment, which led to the need to promote the "revival of the empire" to calm everyone down. But it was really hard to even imagine that his subordinates from his beloved intelligence service would engage in trading off top sensitive secrets about schemes and assets built up over decades.
I should recall, it was a Russian intelligence operative who worked under cover at the Russian Embassy in Rome who helped British investigators find out the names of potential suspects in the Skripal poisoning case. The Russian spy, who claims to have been disenchanted by Putin's policies, provided intel to the Brits in exchange for protection guarantees. This evidences the fact that even such a powerful machine as the FSB, SVR or GRU can also fail. Besides, this results in Russia's policy facing more and more resistance.
The Skripals case is not only about an attempt to poison the two people – it also affects other people who could become random victims of the deadly Novichok
The UK seems to be a pioneer in this matter. Of course, a question arises, why is it exactly now that Britain resorts to abolishing the so-called "investment visas" for solid Russian investors? There are several answers to this one.
First, Britain finally realized that Russian money could become an instrument that would control the most sensitive sectors of the country's economy. In addition to real estate, Russians had been acquiring media outlets which allowed them shaping up public opinion.
Secondly, the Skripals case is not only about an attempt to poison the two people – it also affects other people who could become random victims of the deadly Novichok. This was precisely the red line that it was no longer possible to shift toward tolerance, understanding or a "business as usual" paradigm.
It will be difficult for the UK to prosecute two GRU operatives for poisoning the Skripals because the Russian Constitution does not allow extradition of its nationals to other countries. However, London has in its arsenal financial leverages that could be applied against the so-called Russian investors. Moreover, if British law enforcers manage to detect any tax evasion attempts, such investments could be instantly confiscated, and it does not matter which country they stem from.
Not all countries are able and/or willing to provide a tough response to the Russian bear
Unfortunately, this will not stop aggressive Russian policies in various EU countries. The thing is that not all countries are able and/or willing to provide a tough response to the Russian bear. Sometimes, the greater the level of resistance certain Western countries show to Russia's actions, the greater the rapprochement with the Kremlin in other Western powers.
For example, Russians made several brazen steps in Greece (which has long been considered Russia's satellite) when they funded protest groups opposing an agreement that would have put an end to the country's long-standing dispute with Macedonia. As a result, the dispute was resolved and Macedonia was invited to NATO, while two Russian diplomats were expelled from Greece.
At the same time, for example, Hungary, Italy, and the Czech Republic are countries whose governments are openly voicing their will to seek reconciliation with Russia under any conditions possible.
France's position is also interesting. After all, on the one hand, President Macron criticizes Russia for its aggression and calls for more sanctions. But on the other hand, he speaks of the impossibility of peace in the EU "without Russia." Germany sets a striking example of economic pragmatics. For Berlin, Nord Stream-2 bears political risks (since Europe is once again becoming dependent on Russian gas, which has long been a tool of political influence), but from an economic perspective, it is a viable project for them.
Thus, the EU may talk a lot about mobilization in the fight against Russian aggression, about diversification of gas supplies, or the need to unite and protect themselves against cyberattacks… However, the discord among European elites is obvious. And the split can become even clearer next year when the elections to the European Parliament are set to be held and EU institutions are to be formed.
Taras Semeniuk is an analyst with KyivStratPro