News Brief

Why The Russian Government Says Spy Poisoning Case Is All About Soccer

Russia’s state media and its embassy in London have launched a coordinated information campaign against allegations that a Russian double-agent and his daughter were poisoned with suspected nerve agent on orders from Moscow, while simultaneously hinting that they got what they deserved.

Dmitry Kiselyov, the head of the state news agency, accused the British government and media of “ganging up on Russia.” In a special segment on his Sunday evening show on the Rossiya-1 channel, he said only the British government stood to benefit from the death of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer convicted of passing secrets to the UK.

“Why not poison him?” said Kiselyov. “Is he so valuable? And do it with his daughter to turn it into a real tear-jerker for the public.”

Kiselyov, sometimes dubbed Putin’s propagandist-in-chief, conspicuously failed to condemn the attack. Instead, he suggested that what he called this “excellent special operation” may have been designed to create the pretext for a boycott of the World Cup, due to take place in Russia later this year.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain in intensive care in a hospital. Parallels have been drawn with the murder in 2006 of another Russian double agent, Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed with radioactive polonium.

The Russian embassy in London has taken a similarly provocative approach on social media, trolling both British government officials and media coverage of the poisoning. It has also pointedly linked Skripal’s case with other Russians who died in suspicious circumstances in the UK — highlighting their associations with British intelligence services. “What a coincidence!” the embassy said in a tweet.

Kremlin-funded media outlets aimed at an international audience went so far as to say the accusations were an attempt to start a war. “There is a concerted effort underway to bounce the West into conflict with Moscow,” warned John Wight, a presenter for the Hard Facts radio program on the Sputnik network.

Last week, a presenter on the government-backed Channel 1 said that Britain was not a safe place for “traitors.” And in a television interview, President Vladimir Putin himself warned that the country’s enemies will “be served poison.”