Mr. Guaido, watch your back. The new Russian presence in Venezuela is a personal hazard to your life. We can trace the roots of the hazard all the way back to Sergey Kirov, a prominent early Bolshevik.
Joseph Stalin said, “Death solves all problems. No man, no problem.” The killing of Sergey Kirov has not been solved in a way that defines it as a political assassination. But viewed as a plot of technical perfection, it has served as a blueprint for political murder into the modern period. At Kirov’s funeral, Stalin was one of the coffin bearers. We do not need to solve this crime, or attribute it to Stalin, for it to be useful to us now, because it serves as an illustration, like a pen-and-ink drawing. Of note,
- Kirov was a political rival. Of rivals, Stalin was to show less-than-zero tolerance.
- Kirov was popular. Like Guaido, he was charismatic, attractive, and energetic.
- Kirov was a prominent member of the “Leningrader” party clique. Based in that most sophisticated Soviet city, the Leningraders, like Guaido’s adherents, had the potent ability to interpret and elaborate Bolshevik ideology. They were a genuine political alternative.
The elements of the killing, so novel at the time, were;
- A disgruntled individual, Leonid Nikolaev who could be manipulated or allowed to commit the killing.
- Apparently innocent actions to expose the victim to the assassin.
- A result of perfect deniability, facilitated by swift executions.
Quoting from (Wikipedia) Leonid Nikolaev,
Borisev, one of the first to come upon the scene, was immediately arrested; he died the day after Kirov’s assassination, allegedly as the result of a fall from a truck in which he was being transported by the NKVD. On December 28 and 29 1934, Nikolaev and 13 other people as members of the “counterrevolutionary group” were tried by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR under Vasili Ulrikh‘s chairmanship. At 5:45 AM, December 29, all of them were sentenced to death and executed by shooting an hour later.
Regardless of whether Kirov’s killing was in fact a political assassination, it’s a blueprint, subsequently modernized. With a shortage of crazy yet reliable assassins, the deniable means is now poison. Death is not always necessary, or even desirable. Recent uses of poison include
- Alexander Litvinenko (death by radioactive polonium)
- Sergei and Yulia Skripal (attempted murder by Novichok A-234)
- (New Yorker) Pyotr Verzilov (incapacitation)
- Vladimir Kara-Murza (coma and incapacitation)
These are known to high certainty. With less supporting evidence, The New Yorker adds Yuri Shchekochikhin and Anna Politkovskaya, poisoned two years before she was shot to death. The Wikipedia article on Shchekochikhin adds Roman Tsepov (possible polonium) and Lecha Islamov (possible polonium). This is a very casual count of 8 poisonings with political motive. It’s a pattern.
Mr. Guaido, you may feel protected by your offer to repay Russia the funds which Maduro squandered. But you are a pawn in a greater game. Russia’s overarching foreign policy strategy is balance-of-power. Since the U.S. is considered to be the strongest power, Russian strategy is to erode that power. Venezuela as a client state is worth more than the money owed. It’s worth more than your life.
The 15 year ban on political office is likely a red herring, to make you feel safe from the real sanctions you face.
Can you protect yourself? Unfortunately, the bungled Skripal job is not likely to be repeated. In the UK, the first requirement was disguise of the murder weapon to be smuggled in; hence the use of a perfume bottle to contain the poison, which (Guardian) later killed Dawn Sturgess. Much earlier, the Soviets possessed sophisticated gun-like weapons that administered poison from a distance, either as an aerosol, or a minute dissolving dart, made of something as simple as sugar.
There is always the possibility of a Kirov-style assassin, paid handsomely, who does not live long enough to enjoy his reward. But poison is the neat, deniable alternative. Either way, you die in a Caracas hospital that denies access to Western specialists.
In the aftermath, Russian expertise with propaganda and internet control will corrode the will of the opposition. Mr. Guaido, will you receive a state funeral or become a non-person? I leave that to the experts. Either is possible, even both at the same time.
The above may seem excessively dramatic. By anticipating a future, it may be possible to avert it. I would prefer to be wrong.
The history of Western interventions includes similar stories,. Of particular note, academic studies of the (Guardian) attempted or actual assassination of Patrice Lumumba reveal all the shades of gray and black; of actual murder, or merely delivering someone to his enemies. Poison is included.
Mr. Guaido, in dramatic flourish, a kiss on both cheeks.