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Defenestration Redux: Is Russia Trying to Assassinate the Mayor of Prague?

April 29, 2020

Episode Notes:

The Guardian reported this week that Prague’s mayor is under police protection due to a threat to his life.  A Czech news magazine, citing anonymous Czech intelligence sources, reported that three weeks ago an assassin with Russian diplomatic credentials arrived in Prague armed with the poison ricin, and under instructions to kill Prague mayor Zdenēk Hrib and another Czech politician.  A spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin has dismissed the allegations, and Czech law enforcement would not confirm the report.  Under many circumstances, such a story might seem the stuff of spy novels, but the Russian government has a history of assassinating rivals and dissidents.  Hrib has spoken favorably about renaming the square in Prague on which the Russian embassy is located in honor of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was killed in Moscow in 2015.

To discuss this issue, we are joined by Dr. Mark Galeotti.  Galeotti is a lecturer and writer on transnational crime and Russian security affairs.  He is an honorary professor at University College London, and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).  He has taught at New York University, Rutgers, Keele University, and Charles University in Prague, as well as the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, and was the Jean Monnet fellow at the European University Institute’s Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies in Florence, Italy.  He has also served as an advisor to the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office on Russian Security Affairs.  He holds an MA from Cambridge and a PhD from the London School of Economics.  Listeners can follow him on Twitter @MarkGaleotti.


[ 01:47 ] On its face, this story seems somewhat fantastic—shady agents, poisons, assassination plots, yet many politicians and journalists who annoy or oppose Putin seem to meet with untimely ends.  How seriously should we take this report?

[ 02:50 ] What is the scope and scale of the Russian assassination program?  Who carries it out?

[ 04:18 ] Who is most frequently targeted? What methods are most frequently used?

[ 05:44 ] What recourse do states have when there appears to be a Russian assassination plot underway on their soil?

[ 08:00 ] Does the publicity surrounding an event like this provide greater protection to the target or do the Russians have a history of persisting despite the risk of exposure?

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