In March of last year, a 66-year-old man named Sergei Skripal was the target of an alleged Russian assassination attempt on UK soil. Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer turned asset for the MI6, and his daughter were both exposed to a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichock. The nerve agent very nearly killed them — and did kill a third party bystander.
As the investigation unfolded, two Russian intelligence agents were named as prime suspects in the attempted murder: Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov of Russia’s GRU. The GRU is often compared to America’s CIA, but that’s not quite accurate. The GRU is, in many ways, a covert arm of Russia’s military.
It seems likely, though, that those are not the agents’ real names — the very same names recently turned up in the French Alps, along with some 13 other Russian spies operating out of the Haute-Savoie department in the Alps. That’s right: A covert ring of Russian military intelligence officers have been operating out of the French Alps. It is now believed that the agents were using the Alps as the GRU’s rear base for covert operations in Europe.
While stories in Ian Fleming novels and Jason Bourne movies tend to depict the high stakes world of covert espionage as something akin to a superhero movie, the reality of covert operations usually tends to involve a bit more tact. So, the repeated exposure of Russian intelligence assets and assassins operating throughout Europe seems to indicate one of two likely possibilities: either Russia’s spies are generally bad at their job, or Russia simply doesn’t care all that much about exposure because denying foreign accusations has worked to great effect thus far: Aside from the expulsion of some diplomats and a few more sanctions on the pile, Russia has proven that it’s able to operate with near-impunity outside its borders.