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Putin Finally Went Too Far

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When Britain threw out 23 Russian diplomats in response to an assassination attempt on Russian agent Sergei Skripal, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia and current bad boy of modern geopolitics, shrugged it off. With relations between London and Moscow so strained, the embassy didn’t have all that much to do, anyway. The cost, Putin no doubt felt, was predictable and bearable. Then on Monday, 20 additional countries, from Albania to Ukraine, joined in a coordinated expulsion campaign, with the United States accounting for 60 of the Russians sent packing. On Tuesday, NATO announced it would expel seven Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning. Suddenly, the Kremlin isn’t looking quite so comfortable. With the Skripal hit, it looks as if Putin may have finally overreached.

For years now, Putin’s calculation has been that the West is strong but lacking in unity and will, allowing a scrappy Russia willing to bend and break the rules of the international order to assert its place as a global player. But the success of this gambit hinged on his capacity to assess what the West would tolerate. By exceeding those limits, he may have delivered a triple blow to himself.

The expulsions are certain to deliver a serious, if not mortal blow to Russia’s intelligence networks. Putin has lavished resources and political capital on his covert foreign operations, which are now as pervasive and aggressive as they were at the height of the Cold War. His spook army is also a multi-headed hydra, featuring three main agencies: the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), military intelligence (GRU), and the newcomers, the political policemen-turned-spooks of the Federal Security Service (FSB).

The more than 120 expelled individuals, all presumed to be intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, represent only a fraction of Russia’s intelligence apparatus. In the Czech Republic, for example, the security service has claimed that as many as 50 Russians working in the embassy in Prague are actually spies. But, mindful that their much smaller embassy in Moscow can only sustain a few retaliatory expulsions, the Czechs expelled just three Russians.

Nonetheless, as the remaining Russian agents scramble to absorb their departing colleagues’ sources and workloads, the wave of expulsions will inevitably disrupt both intelligence-gathering networks as well as “active measures,” or political subversion operations. These activities range from encouraging anti-government paramilitary groups in Bulgaria to supporting populist far-right fringe groups in Europe.

The expulsions also shift the geopolitical landscape. In previous incidents of Russian mischief, Moscow has only had to deal with one country at a time. When its agents poisoned defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, for example, Britain received little real support from its allies when it pushed back against Russia. When assassins killed Chechen activists in Istanbul, no one rushed to help the Turks. When Russian commandos kidnapped Estonian security officer Eston Kohver in 2014, Tallinn had to cut its own deal with Moscow to get him back. Each time, allies offered little more than sympathy, and Putin presumably assumed this would again be the case with Skripal.

This time, despite the Trump administration’s often-tense relations with Europe and the fraught negotiations over Britain’s divorce from the European Union, the West has delivered an unprecedented collective message. Even the horrific shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 over southeast Ukraine by Russian proxies using a Russian missile failed to generate a similar reaction. While outright invasions such as the seizure of Crimea have led to sanctions, this is the first time ever there has been such an extensive and international response to a covert operation.

This new determination from the West to take Putin to task is the product of a cumulative process. As the tally of Russian provocations has grown, from the annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine in 2014, to election interference in the United States and elsewhere, to the heedless use of airpower against civilian targets in Syria, the sense that something had to be done had been building. This latest affair, an especially brazen incident which saw not only Skripal, but his daughter and a police officer who came to their aid poisoned with a Soviet-designed military nerve agent, simply provided the catalyst.

Perhaps most importantly, these expulsions challenge any easy assumptions in Moscow that Russian officials have the measure of the West. I was in Moscow in the immediate aftermath of the Skripal attack. Britain’s initial response, while decried by the Russian authorities as an act of “Russophobia,” did not seem to faze people I spoke to connected with the foreign ministry. They all seemed certain that that initial expulsion would be the end of it. The idea that 17 EU countries, as well as Albania, Australia, Canada, Macedonia, Norway, and Ukraine, would end up expelling suspected agents seemed implausible. That America would also kick out another 60? Unthinkable.

One of Putin’s greatest assets has been his capacity to break the rules of international behavior, as Western countries try and preserve them. As a result, he has been able to game out likely responses, staying clear of red lines and exploiting opportunities that arise. That does not mean he and his advisors don’t get things wrong (like the time Russia moved into the Donbas in Ukraine and expected Kiev to  quickly capitulate). But they believed they understood the West, and that ultimately Western countries would not act decisively in support of each other. This time, he miscalculated.

In the near term, the Kremlin will respond with its usual mix of malice and bluster. There will be aggrieved denunciations, reciprocal expulsions, maybe even escalation, in the form of sanctions against Western media and cultural organizations (Moscow has already closed down the British Council’s operation in Russia), the suspension of cooperation agreements, and perhaps even pressure on other fronts such as Syria, Libya and the Balkans. Ultimately, though, Russia needs the West more than the West needs Russia. There are likely to be some hurried and anxious recalculations in Moscow as Putin and company realize how badly they blundered.

The Kremlin has relied on its own will and the West’s divisions to play a weak hand well. But maybe it played one card too many.

the atlantic

100 Comments on "Putin Finally Went Too Far"

  1. MASTERMIND on Wed, 28th Mar 2018 7:11 pm 

    Poland signs $4.75 billion deal for U.S. Patriot missile system facing Russia

    At no time during Cold War was one side surrounded by anti-ballistic missiles ie Russia..There is no comparison. The old game could only end in a draw. The new game can played to win by the USA….If was Putin I would be packing my golden parachute about

  2. Anonymouse1 on Wed, 28th Mar 2018 7:15 pm 

    Narrativeman says….

    “But not the way a pro would do the hit.”

    Really? How do you know how a ‘pro’ would do the ‘hit’? How many people have you nerve-gassed lately. And I am not talking about how many people you gassed while you in the oil patch. That would be too many to recount Im sure.

    So, are you….

    A) A professional hitman that moonlights as a shitty , low rent shill for uS oil corporations?


    B) You are a shitty shill for uS oil corporations, that moonlights as a hitman specializing in nerve gas hits?

    You can tell us narrativeman. Your secret identity and nefarious activities are safe with us here.

    Now I know you were trying to throw everyone off the trail with your ‘Russian Nationalists’ trying to make President Putin look bad story. How is that angle working out? Any leads, follow-ups on that story for us narrativeman?

  3. Davy on Wed, 28th Mar 2018 7:39 pm 

    Weasel, shut up, Rockman can say something worth our time. All you can do is grunt. You are an embarrassment to this forum.

  4. Anonymouse1 on Wed, 28th Mar 2018 8:12 pm 

    Pretty sure that was for ‘the narrativeman’ man, dumbass. Is your name narrativeman? If not, I suggest you let him defend his weird dumbass comments for himself. You have enough on your plate dealing with your mental breakdown, managing your various dysfunctional personalities backstories, and supposedly, working on your ‘doomstead’ in some mysterious capacity. The mystery being, how you find the time to do even the most of basic of tasks on that ‘doomstead’ of yours, given your non-stop ranting and raving here.


  5. Davy on Wed, 28th Mar 2018 8:18 pm 

    Grunt, grunt, listen to the dialect of a millennial Canadian waste case. Weasel, your mom did a poor job of home schooling.

  6. Kat C on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 5:04 am 

    Skirpal was a spy who sold out the spies of his own country for money. Nonetheless this is 13 years later. Why would Moscow off him now? More importantly what other things would he be willing to do for money?
    “This is very important information from Craig Murray, former Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the connections between Sergei Skripal and Christopher Steele of the Trump Dossier. It turns out that Steele was in Moscow at the same time as the Skripal affair and that Skripal’s MI6 handler, Pablo Miller also lives in Salisbury”

    Ooops seems like there is a connection to the Steele dossier….

    Meanwhile just where is he…is family doesn’t know

    Whole thing is fishy. Meanwhile Russia has weapons that they say can evade our defenses. Is it really smart to be poking at the bear? Ah well nuclear war is a quicker end that climate change..

  7. Davy on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 5:22 am 

    “Whole thing is fishy. Meanwhile Russia has weapons that they say can evade our defenses. Is it really smart to be poking at the bear? Ah well nuclear war is a quicker end that climate change..”

    Everything seems fishy these day especially in the West. Putin, while admirable, is still a Mafia boss over a Mafia nation. We should have no illusions Putin is up to his own games and on the surface looks like a wonderful leader. As for weapons that can evade US defenses, Russia has always had weapons that can evade US defenses. The US has only had a limited missile defense program. The technology is not robust enough or reliable enough to ever counter Russian vast nuclear arsenal then or now and with or without hypersonic missiles.

  8. fmr-paultard on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:28 am 

    the whole putin existence is exporting all internal problems to the boogie man of america primarily. it’s a victimhood mindset and the alt-tard digesting existence.
    russia is the alternative center of force so it’s an alt-tard existence, nothing illogical about it.

  9. Kat C on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 11:42 am

    Putin gets high approval ratings in Russia even according to Pew research and NBC news.

    From all I have read many Russians fault him for not being firmer with the West. My own view is that he is in fact trying to prevent the world catastrophe of WWIII fought with nuclear weapons so he keeps trying with the warmongers to get some sort of MAD back in place. But I also sense that he will go first strike if he is sure we are planning a first strike because Russia comes first.

    Worth a listen, Russian Scholar Stephen Cohen on the arms race
    IMO Stephen Cohen is the sanest voice about Russia (his wife is the editor of Nation magazine).

    longer interview on the John Batchelor show that I haven’t had time to listen to yet. But Stephen and John have been discussing Russia ever since the US facilitated a coup in Ukraine. I can post with confidence without having yet listened to it, as they have yet to disappoint me with sane, reasoned, well backed up discussion

  10. Kat C on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 11:43 am 

    Paul what is an alt-tard existence?

  11. GregT on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 11:55 am 

    I posted this in another thread. Relevant here as well:

    Russia scholar Stephen Cohen banned from US media

    “The problem is, is that the Washington elite depends primarily on the mainstream television, and on the three newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. Our point of view, never, since last February when the crisis began, has appeared on their opinion pages. Never. We’ve been excluded. I have never seen this before in America. It’s very strange to me.”

    ‘Stephen Frand Cohen is an American scholar and professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University.’

  12. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:20 pm 


    Sputnik, RT, Russian Insider etc wouldn’t run his opinion? How about here. Many options if your from Princeton. Maybe he writes like the anti Americans here. All bark, no beef. Lol

  13. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:22 pm 

    PS Anti American bs would kill viewership.

  14. Kenz300 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:23 pm 

    It is time for Europe and the rest of the world to move aggressively to adopt more wind and solar energy and quit importing fuel from Russia.

    Russia is a one trick pony. When fossil fuel use slows their money machine and dirty tricks will stop.

  15. GregT on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:23 pm 


    You are one of the brainwashed masses leading the US to both war, and ruin. You obviously have no clue as to who it is that is pulling your strings.

  16. fmr-paultard on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:43 pm 

    kat alt-tard is paris moscow berlin beijing axis of power. this is the alternative to usa.

  17. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 12:47 pm 

    None of us has much impact in US internal or global decisions on what laws should be enforced. If I were to have that power I wouldn’t be spending any time on you. Lol

  18. fmr-paultard on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 1:04 pm 

    kenz russia is like saudi arabia. once the oil is gone it collapses …so much for PMBB “confederation”

  19. makati1 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 5:41 pm 

    Boat, at one time, it was called ‘protest’ and it DID affect change. But, now, too many Americans are of the couch potato variety and their motto is “Let someone else do it!”. THAT is going to be the end of America and your cushy lifestyle, not to mention freedoms and possibly, your life.

  20. makati1 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 5:43 pm 

    fmr, true, but the Us is going to go down way before that happens. So, what is your point? Russia has resources to last for decades. The Us has few resources that will last beyond the next financial crash.

  21. Boat on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 6:09 pm 


    There have two huge protests recently. One for anti guns and another by women against Trump. You wouldn’t like either. Hundreds of thousands, out numbering Trump’s acceptance speech. Then there was black lives matter.
    Funny how it seems they wouldn’t like you, clog, threewrech, amouse, you know the type.

  22. makati1 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 6:56 pm 

    Boat, where did you get those numbers? I don’t recall anything like that size a crowd. Us MSM stats are bullshit. Their numbers inflated because no one was at all of them at the same time to prove the MSM wrong. America is the “Let someone else do it” country. Well someone IS doing it. That “someone” is destroying America due to the laziness/ignorance of 99% of the American serfs. And the serfs are even paying for it with their taxes.

  23. Davy on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:15 pm 

    “That “someone” is destroying America due to the laziness/ignorance of 99% of the American serfs.”

    Come on billy 3rd world 99%…that sounds a little excessive even for a liar like you.

  24. makati1 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:24 pm 

    Davy, 1% is about 3.3 million people today. IF there are even that many rational, intelligent, un-brainwashed people left in America, I would be surprised. You are not an example of that demographic. You are part of the 99%, not me.

  25. makati1 on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:27 pm 

    BTW: I am glad to be living in a “3rd world” country that will survive the collapse and not suffer like the Americans are going to. Where people are still family oriented, hard working, self-sufficient, educated and just plain pleasant to be around, unlike most Americans.

  26. Davy on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:29 pm 

    duh, dumbass billy 3rd world dazzle us with his math skills. Billy you are an extremist and a intellectually lite personality. You just go where you can get support because you like people to fluff you up. Plenty of extremist anti-Americans here for that. A real person with smarts would not use percentages like 99%. It looks stupid.

  27. onlooker on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:32 pm 

    Social Activism Funded by Global Capitalism, Serves the Neoliberal World Order. The 2018 World Social Forum (WSF) in Salvador, Brazil

  28. Davy on Thu, 29th Mar 2018 7:36 pm 

    “Where people are still family oriented, hard working, self-sufficient, educated and just plain pleasant to be around, unlike most Americans.”

    Well we know what you think of your family billy 3rd world. Dumped them like a sack of rocks. You have made it clear you are never going back to see them in the US. That tells me you are not family oriented.
    We know you are not hard working because all you think about is sitting on the beach while $1/hr laborers do all the work. You are not self-sufficient because you rely on your social security check. You are not educated evidenced by your comments here. You are pleasant like a pet cockroach.

    LOL, I am so glad you are back billy 3rd world this is too much fun.

  29. MD on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 3:26 am 

    Y’all are nothing but a bunch of screaming crows.

  30. makati1 on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:00 am 

    I hear the Missouri Mule braying as usual. Not that I both to read his drivel. Just the lineup of comments with his tag tells me he is trying to dominate the forum again. That only happens in his deluded mind. Meanwhile, I am enjoying real freedom and a good life in a country that still has a culture and no need to spy on it’s citizens or even try.

  31. makati1 on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:04 am 

    Signs of Us decay…

    “Trump’s Trade War: US Demands China Keep Importing American Garbage”

    “According to Reuters, which was the first western media outlet to report on the decision, the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries said at the time that the ban would devastate an industry that supported 155,000 jobs and had exported scrap worth $5.6 billion to China in 2016.”

    America will soon be drowning in its own garbage. So be it. lol

  32. Hello on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:05 am 

    Davy, that’s a very good observation of mak. Big smile!

  33. fmr-paultard on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:29 am 

    aswang is a model to be emulated guys. mollyneux told some supertards to disown their parents. i left my mom to become a paultard but not anymore. now we’re told to fly half the world away to adopt new family.

  34. Davy on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:40 am 

    “Meanwhile, I am enjoying real freedom and a good life in a country that still has a culture and no need to spy on it’s citizens or even try.”

    Who is delusional? lol!

  35. Davy on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 7:40 am 

    thanks hello

  36. fmr-paultard on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 8:36 am 

    i was a paultard and i became the second most conservative and religious tard after supertard paresidnet paul. i wonder what aswang committed in the us that’s so henious that he has to fly half a world away and assume new idetity and kinship

  37. fmr-paultard on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 9:59 am 

    putin now cutting intardweb cables.
    love it when our MSM fights back.

  38. fmr-paultard on Fri, 30th Mar 2018 10:17 am 

    so this is putin’s “deep state” the dictator has no control over it. dangerous, very dangerous comrade putin.

    no wonder supertards anticipated this scenario and eventual collapse of dictatorship putin.

    putin’s deep state always seek america’s destruction

  39. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Apr 2018 4:38 am 

    “Mossad’s blunder strikes a raw nerve”

    Anglo newspaper reporting about (failed) nerve gas assassination attempt… by the Mossad.

    And Dutch PM Rutte keeps claiming that it must have been the Russia since there are no other candidates.

  40. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Apr 2018 7:22 am 

    The story stinks to high heaven:

  41. Cloggie on Tue, 3rd Apr 2018 3:36 pm 

    British scientists have denied that the nerve gas is of Russian origin. No surprises here.

  42. MASTERMIND on Tue, 3rd Apr 2018 4:49 pm 

    Shooting at Youtube headquarters today. I bet it was some tin foil hat whack job like Clogg. Who is pissed he got his videos removed!

  43. MASTERMIND on Tue, 3rd Apr 2018 5:11 pm 

    White House has secret 5-story-deep doomsday bunker

  44. fmr-paultard on Tue, 3rd Apr 2018 5:39 pm 

    ^mm^ no grabbing luke 22:36 bro, please.

  45. Cloggie on Wed, 4th Apr 2018 2:29 pm 

    Now even the #1 German media outlet of the US empire begins to doubt the Skripal story:

    Der Spiegel: no credible proof.

  46. Cloggie on Wed, 4th Apr 2018 2:34 pm

    “EU gives May its ‘full confidence’ in the UK investigation of the nerve agent attack after Russia seizes on Porton Down’s admission it can’t prove the Novichok was made by the Kremlin”


  47. Cloggie on Thu, 5th Apr 2018 11:58 am 

    Hahaha, Britain completely losing it:

    Foreign Office deletes tweet accusing Russia of being the producer of the “deadly” nerve gas.

    They can’t set up a proper false flag anymore.rofl

  48. Cloggie on Thu, 5th Apr 2018 1:15 pm 

    Just on the German 20:00 tv news:

    Former head “German CIA” expressed his doubts that Russia did it. The West begins to realize it scored an own toal.

    Moral winner: Vladimir the Great.

    The stoopid Smglo-led West standing small, again.

  49. Cloggie on Thu, 5th Apr 2018 2:53 pm 

    Again, German television expressing grave doubt regarding the official “Russia did it” story and admits that there is no proof.

  50. Cloggie on Thu, 5th Apr 2018 6:02 pm 

    German government and media support Britain in the Skripal case, but the media fear that Putin will carry away the moral victory, again:

    Uh-oh, Labour smells the chance to topple Boris Buffoon:

    As always, the reader comments are more interesting than the gov propaganda that passes as news. The
    “rightwing Brit” is not really convinced and smells another bogus WMD story. Der Spiegel comments, same tendency, the majority is skeptical.

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