Unforgiven: Russian Intelligence Vengeance as Political Theater and Strategic Messaging

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Army Cyber Institute, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, History

Publication Date


Publication Title

Intelligence and National Security

Document Type



The poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer and MI6 agent Sergei Skripal highlights the enduring Russian ardor for poisoning enemies of the state as a warning to others who contemplate disloyalty. Beyond treating the event itself, we explore Russian conceptions of theatrical murder as a peculiar element of state power. We historicize this development and inquire whether assassination as political theater and strategic messaging is a tool embraced in particular by Vladimir Putin or rather emblematic of the Russian state. We explore why and how Putin opted to strike at the moment he did to seek vengeance against Skripal, concluding that a confluence of structural and human factors at the intersection of British government policies with Russian domestic politics led Putin to his decision. We conclude with the implications of these findings for western governments.

Record links to items hosted by external providers may require fee for full-text.