Following the recent attempted assassination of a former Russian spy named Sergei Skripal on UK soil, Prime Minister Theresa May has called for the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the nation and the freezing of Russian assets held on UK soil. Skripal and his daughter appear to have been the victims of a particularly nasty nerve agent designed by the Soviet Union and housed nowhere else known on the planet.

That, combined with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statements following Skripal’s release, would seem to tie the Russian government directly to the incident, a seemingly bold move from the Russian state. With 22 others, including a police officer that first aided Skripal and his daughter, forced to undergo treatment following exposure to the Russian nerve agent known as Novichok, one would think this type of international incident must have been a miscalculation by Russian officials, or perhaps even a botched operation … but when you begin to delve into the history of Russia’s use of high-profile assassinations as a means to “set an example,” this month’s lethal circus in Salisbury, England almost starts to look like business as usual for the largest nation on earth.

In the past century, the ruling regime in Russia or the former Soviet Union have been tied to at least 33 successful assassinations, with nearly a full third of those taking place after Vladimir Putin rose to power in 1999. Even these figures, however, are misleadingly low, as they don’t take into account assassinations that were never tied directly to the Kremlin, nor does it include failed attempts, such as it appears the recent incident in the UK will be.

AP Photo/Alistair Fuller

Alexander Litvinenko

Alexander Litvinenko, who was perhaps the most high-profile of the Putin-era assassinations, was also killed in the UK via an exotic and telling form of poison: a highly radioactive isotope called radioactive polonium-210.

Litvinenko was himself a member of Russia’s FSB, the successor to the nefarious KGB, but it was because of his public accusations that his own government ordered the assassination of Russian tycoon and oligarch Boris Berezovsky that ultimately saw him arrested multiple times, forcing him to defect to the United Kingdom in 2000.

Alexander Litvinenko days before his dead as a result of radiation poisoning. | Wikimedia Commons

“The view inside our agency was that poison is just a weapon, like a pistol,” Litvinenko told the New York Times in 2004, two years before his assassination. “It’s not seen that way in the West, but it was just viewed as an ordinary tool.”

Once in the UK, Litvinenko wrote two books detailing Vladimir Putin’s involvement in what may have been a false flag terror attack (blamed on Chechen separatists) that helped ensure Putin’s accession to the nation’s highest office. He also had a slew of other things to say, and he publicly accused Putin of ordering the assassination of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.

That last act of defiance may have been the final straw, as less than a month later Litvinenko fell critically ill. For 21 days, he remained hospitalized as each of his major organs shut down one after another — the culprit was acute radiation poisoning caused by exposure to polonium-210, an extremely rare and highly radioactive substance that was a critical component of early Soviet nuclear bombs.