Vladimir Putin has warned that he can ‘never forgive betrayal’ in a new Russian documentary amid fears he will not back down over the spy poisoning row.
The Russian President, widely expected to be reelected on Sunday, once hinted at how his country deals with spies by insisting that ‘traitors always end in a bad way’.
And in a newly released Russian documentary about the Kremlin strongman, he once again outlines his disdain for treachery, insisting that ‘not everything’ can be forgiven – in particular ‘betrayal’.
The 65-year-old’s remarks could be seen as an indication that he will not back down in the escalating row over poisoned double agent Sergei Skripal, who was accused of ‘high treason’ in Russia before moving to Britain in a spy swap in 2010.
Mr Skripal, 66, who is in a critical condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia following a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, was accused of working for MI6 over several years, in particular disclosing the names of several dozen Russian agents working in Europe.
Vladimir Putin has warned that he can ‘never forgive betrayal’ in a new Russian documentary amid fears he will never back down over the spy poisoning row
Mr Skripal (right), 66, who is in a critical condition in hospital along with his daughter Yulia (left) following a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, was accused of working for MI6 over several years, in particular disclosing the names of several dozen Russian agents working in Europe
The 65-year-old’s remarks could be seen as an indication that he will not back down in the escalating row over poisoned double agent Sergei Skripal. Pictured: Investigators wearing protective outfits in Salisbury
According to the New York Times, experts have warned Britain not to expect any form of apology from Moscow.
On the contrary scholars believe the case may even play in to Putin’s hands – reinforcing his notion that Russia is surrounded and under constant threat from enemies outside its border.
Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, told the newspaper that the Skripal row simply plays into ‘the central geopolitical narrative of the current incarnation of Putinism: Russia is just too formidable and fearsome to be ignored. This is all about demonstrating that Russia not only has capacity to act but the will to act, too.’
Russian scholar Vladislav Inozemtsev, based at the Polish Institute of Advanced Studies in Warsaw, said Putin and his top officials would ‘never assume responsibility’.
As the finger of blame points at Russia over the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, alternative theories are being promoted in Russian media outlets, ranging from a plot to sabotage the country’s upcoming presidential election to an attempt to ruin its hosting of this summer’s football World Cup.
Despite British Prime Minister Theresa May saying the Russian government’s involvement was ‘highly likely’ due to the use of the Novichok nerve agent, many Russian people back alternative hypotheses.
The poisoning of Yulia, left, and her father Sergei Skripal, right, sparked a huge investigation and clean-up operation
The investigation into the poisoning has led to a series of locations around Salisbury being sealed off and decontaminated
‘Russia is always blamed for everything,’ complained Lyubov Tarassenko, a 69-year-old pensioner in Moscow.
Her reaction, for the most part, reflects the mood of Russians following the spy scandal, who see their country as a victim rather than a guilty party.
‘The British secret services are behind the poisoning, given the ideal way it was carried out using a substance presumed to have come from Russia,’ said Vladislav Dyatlov, a 46-year-old lawyer.
They want ‘to influence the result of the Russian presidential election,’ he said, adding: ‘Well, we want to elect our president ourselves.’
The vote takes place on Sunday and President Vladimir Putin is the overwhelming favourite to win another mandate.
‘Russia has nothing to do with it,’ insisted Andrey Shishkanov, a 49-year-old doctor, who believe the affair is aimed at harming the election or the World Cup Russia is hosting.
Investigators in protective suits in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill after exposure to a nerve agent
Three investigators, heavily protected by suits and gas masks, work in Salisbury park last night
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a park bench in the southern city of Salisbury last week and both remain in critical condition in hospital.
The UK has demanded Russia provide answers on the March 4 poisoning.
After the identities of the victims were revealed, Kirill Kleimenov, a presenter on TV channel Pierviy Kanal commented sarcastically that ‘being a traitor is one of the most dangerous professions in the world’.
Kleimenov went on to note that grave misfortune had befallen several Russians living in Britain in recent years, saying: ‘alcohol, drugs, stress, depression are inevitable ills linked to the profession of traitor which can provoke heart attacks, brain haemorrhage, traffic accidents or even suicide.’
He concluded: ‘Don’t ever choose England as a country of residence if you are a professional traitor to your country.’
One much-reported case of a Russian meeting a suspicious death in Britain in recent years was that of former FSB secret service operative Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned after his tea was laced with highly radioactive polonium-210.
Russian state TV on Sunday stated that Skripal ‘was no longer of interest to anyone’ while a presenter pondered ‘is the British climate damaging to turncoats?’
A poisoned umbrella tip and radioactive tea: How Russian spies have died in the UK
It was one of the most audacious acts of the Cold War which could have come straight from the pages of a spy novel.
In 1978, Georgi Markov was jabbed with an umbrella which fired a poison pellet into his leg as he crossed Waterloo Bridge in London while he waited for a bus.
He died three days later – and for almost 40 years, mystery has surrounded the whereabouts of his killer.
Georgi Markov was jabbed with an umbrella which fired a poison pellet into his leg
A replica of the umbrella that a KGB agent used in 1978 to kill the Bulgarian dissident
Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London in 2006, a killing which a judge said was probably approved by President Vladimir Putin.
The defector died after two agents slipped radioactive polonium 210 into his tea pot at a Mayfair hotel in central London.
The 43-year-old had been an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), but he fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin.
He died after an agonising six-day battle in hospital.
Ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London in 2006 when a radioactive substance was poured into his tea pot at a Mayfair hotel
Alexander Perepilichnyy, a key witness in a £140million tax fraud investigation, collapsed while jogging outside his £3million mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012.
The Russian had ingested gelsemium – a very rare toxic plant found only in China, a coroner heard.
Tests carried out by leading botanist Professor Monique Simmonds of Kew Gardens found a chemical in Mr Perepilichnyy’s stomach that could come only from a variety of gelsemium – a known method of assassination by Chinese and Russian contract killers.
Alexander Perepilichnyy collapsed while jogging outside his £3million mansion in Weybridge, Surrey, in November 2012
A radiation expert who investigated the ‘assassination’ of Alexander Litvinenko was found dead in a mysterious suicide five months after a trip to Russia.
Matthew Puncher, 46, bled to death at his home from multiple stab wounds inflicted by two knives in his home in Drayton, Oxfordshire in May 2016.
A pathologist said he could not ‘exclude’ the possibility that someone else was involved in the death – but concluded the injuries were self-inflicted.
Radiation expert Matthew Puncher, who investigated the ‘assassination’ of Alexander Litvinenko, was found dead in a mysterious suicide in May 2016
Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his in Berkshire bathroom with a ligature round his neck in March 2013.
His friends in the secret service say he planned to give Putin evidence of a plot involving oligarchs to topple the strongman in a coup.
Theory has it that the exiled Russian tycoon was slain by Western secret services linked to the plan to overthrow the Kremlin leader.
A coroner recorded an open verdict saying he either took his own life or he was killed and the scene was staged to look self-inflicted.
Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in his in Berkshire bathroom with a ligature round his neck in March 2013 but the coroner recorded an open verdict
Bankrupt property tycoon Scot Young was the fifth member of a close circle of friends to die in unusual circumstances.
The 52-year-old suffered fatal injuries after falling from a window on to railings after being hounded over debts by Russian mafia members.
They had previously dangled him out of a window at the Dorchester Hotel, in Park Lane, threatening to drop him next time if he did not pay up, his close friend alleged.
Mr Young, who was once worth an estimated £400m, claimed to have lost his fortune when a vast Russian property deal, known as Project Moscow, collapsed in 2006.
Bankrupt property tycoon Scot Young (pictured right) suffered fatal injuries after falling from a window on to railings after being hounded over debts by Russian mafia members
Meanwhile in 2012, German Gorbuntsov survived despite being shot several times with a sub-machine gun on the Isle of Dogs in East London.
The Russian banker allegedly had evidence relevant to the attempted murder of Russian billionaire Alexander Antonov.
In 2016, former Russian double agent Colonel Alexander Poteyev, who exposed glamour spy Anna Chapman, died in the US.
Mr Poteyev had overseen the Russian sleeper agents in the US as a deputy head of the ‘S’ department of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service.
The broadcaster also suggested Britain’s secret service may have had a role in the case, given that the poisoning occurred ‘very close to the British military centre of Porton Down, which was carrying out research into’ the nerve agent used.
‘This poisoning is too neat, coming a few days before the Russian presidential election,’ said another broadcaster, NTV, in its evening bulletin.
While spies carry out their business across the globe ‘it is only in Great Britain that they are poisoned,’ the NTV presenter mused.
The influential speaker of Russia’s lower parliamentary chamber, Vyacheslav Volodin, went further in denouncing what he termed ‘a premeditated action which constitutes a form of interference in the (electoral) campaign.’
‘Great Britain and its authorities are responsible,’ he added.
Dmitry Kiselyov, star commentator with the state broadcaster and regarded as close to the Kremlin, suggested the goal was to spoil the World Cup.
‘Why not poison Skripal and then afterwards use that to organise a boycott of the World Cup?’ Kisselyov asked on Sunday.
Other media have taken a similar line, including the Moskovskij Komsomolets daily, which speculated about ‘the operation of British secret agents’.
Business FM radio analyst Georgy Bovt said that ‘in the absence of proof’ of Russian implication in the poisoning of Skripal, ‘Moscow has the moral right to break off diplomatic relations’ with London.