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MI6 chief Alex Younger: Russia broke spy swap deal with Skripal attack



Vladimir Putin
Putin at the G20 Leaders’ Summit 2018 in

Ricardo Ceppi/Getty

  • The head of MI6 said Russia broke one of the prime
    rules of espionage by trying to assassinate double agent Sergei
    Skripal after he moved to Britain as part of a spy
  • Alex Younger said that the UK trusted the pardon Russia
    gave to Skripal, but that after the attack on him — which the
    UK blames on Russia’s GRU — all bets are off.
  • Spy swaps date back at least to the Cold War, and rely
    on two nations trusting each other.
  • Younger warned Russia not to underestimate the UK and
    said that the two nations are now in a “perpetual state of

The head of MI6 says Russia broke one of the prime rules of
espionage and won’t be trusted again after it tried to
assassinate a former Russian agent despite giving him
away in a spy swap.

Alex Younger said British spies had to revise their
assumptions about Moscow after Skripal was attacked with a deadly
nerve agent, in an operation which Britain has pinned on Russia’s
GRU spy agency.

Younger is the Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service,
more commonly known as MI6, and gave a

speech to
students at St Andrew’s University in Scotland,
which was reported by the Financial Times

In the speech, Younger said the UK had partly trusted
Russian President Vladimir Putin when Russia pardoned Skripal in
2010 in return for its own agents.

Younger said that he and his agents assumed that Moscow’s
spy swap “had meaning” and would be honored, but that they
revised their opinion in light of the Skripal

He said, according to the Financial Times:
Skripal came to the UK in an American-brokered exchange, having
been pardoned by the president of Russia and, to the extent we
assumed that had meaning, that is not an assumption that we will
make again.”

Skripal was part of an ambitious spy swap deal with the US in 2010 when
four Russian agents who had betrayed their country were released
by the Kremlin in exchange for 10 Russian spies in the US.

UK accuses Russia
of being behind the attack on Skripal in
March 2018, a charge the Kremlin denies.

Novichok, the nerve agent used in the poisoning,
has been traced to Russia,
and the two men accused by the UK
of attempting to assassinate Skripal have
been identified by Investigative journalism site Bellingcat

as GRU officers.

Read More:

The UK government is accusing Russia of waging a secret cyberwar
across the globe

Spy swaps are an understanding between the West and Russia
that dates back to the of the Cold War.

Jonathan Eyal, international director at think-tank the
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI),
told Business Insider in March
that the safety of the spies
is typically put at the forefront of the exchange.

“Spying agencies try to maintain a gentleman’s agreement
that these people are beyond retribution,” he said.

The goal is typically to have them go smoothly so more spy
swaps can be done in the future.

Read More:

Putin trashes poisoned ex-spy Skripal: ‘He’s simply a

Professor Anthony Glees, the director of the Centre for Security
and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, told
Business Insider that the Russians take spy swaps “very
seriously” because of the concern that “no one will ever do a
swap with them again” if they break faith.

He said that if Russia had really wanted to kill Skripal, it
could have executed him in prison.

So Russia would need believe it had a good reason to attempt to
assassinate Skripal on UK soil.

“The idea that they would do it for fun or anything less
serious is to be discounted,” Eyal said. 

A state of confrontation

Speaking on Monday, Younger said that Russia was in a
“perpetual state of confrontation” with the UK, and warned the
Kremlin not to underestimate the UK’s determination to fight
attempts to interfere with its way of life.

“The conclusion [Russia] have arrived at is they should
apply their capabilities across the whole spectrum to . . . our
institutions and our partnerships,” Younger said.

“Our intention is for the Russian state to conclude that
whatever benefits it thinks it is accruing from this activity,
they are not worth the risk.”

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