The Skripal Case Follows an Old Soviet Script

New attack; old story.

Photographer: Matt Cardy

With U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May rather confidently pinning the attempted murder of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the Russian state, the past is fully upon us — several different pasts, in fact.

To better understand what's going on, skip the BBC TV series McMafia and dip into Babylon Berlin, the recent high-budget German production set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. Berlin's Russian community was enormous in those days, as it is again today: It was in the 1920s that Charlottenburg, the borough in which I live now, was first nicknamed Charlottengrad. In "Babylon Berlin," an emigre cell works to get a shipment of Russian gold to Trotsky and thugs sent by the KGB predecessor and working out of the Soviet embassy massacre the Trotskyites. In Volker Kutscher's novel "The Wet Fish," upon which the series is based, a Russian tells the German protagonist, "We Russians live here among ourselves, and we regulate our own affairs. We don't like it when Germans meddle in our affairs."

So it was in 1920s and 1930s Paris, too. The city's enormous contingent of White Russians was thoroughly penetrated by Soviet intelligence, whose work culminated in the kidnappings of Generals Alexander Kutepov and Yevgeny Miller, successive heads of the Russian General Military Union — the remnant of the White Army command. "The Bolsheviks infiltrated White Russian organizations and compromised every political opposition movement," wrote British author Vanora Bennett, who has long been fascinated by the first Russian emigration. "The Russian expatriate community was riven by suspicion and double-dealing. It was impossible to tell who was with you and who was in the pay of the Soviet secret agents from the Cheka, later known as the NKVD (and later still as the KGB)."