- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
An unnamed Russian official has told Russia’s generally reputable Kommersant newspaper that an assassin has been dispatched to dispense some Soviet-style justice against a former SVR colonel identified only as Shcherbakov, who allegedly controlled the ring of sleeper agents arrested in the United States last June and fled Russia just days before they were arrested:
"You can have no doubt — a Mercader has already been sent after him."
Ramón Mercader was the KGB-hired Spanish communist who was sent to kill Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in Mexico in 1940. […]
"The fate of such a person is unenviable. All his life he will drag this with him, living every day in fear of retribution."
So for blowing Russia’s inside source on the Montclair Parent-Teacher Association, this guy gets elevated to the level of Leon Trotsky?
It’s true that the arrest of "the illegals" can be seen as a sign of the return to KGB-era espionage tactics after a period during which the SVR tried unsuccessfully to distance itself from its past. And the involvement of Russian intelligence has been suspected in a number of other assassinations, notably former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by polonium poisoning in London in 2006.
But telegraphing an assassination plan in advance is going to make plausible deniability a bit tough if something happens to Shcherbakov in the near future. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was a bit subtler back in July, saying, "The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what these laws are" and "Traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts."