A Hunt for Evidence Tying Russia to Nerve Gas Attack

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(Bloomberg) -- The revelation that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both critically ill in a British hospital, were attacked with a nerve agent makes it probable that they are victims of action by a state body.

But which state, and which body? As the head of Europol observed, “there are not 101 likely offenders.”

Skripal sold the identities of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6. A U.K. inquiry said Russians were almost certainly behind the 2006 poisoning in London -- with polonium -- of Alexander Litvinenko, another ex-spy, so they’re not above such a move.

Russian elections are days away, and, as President Vladimir Putin’s critics suggest, a demonstration that his country’s enemies are never beyond his reach plays to his appeal.

Of course, as with Litvinenko, or recent episodes of electoral interference, or the 2014 downing of flight MH-17, Russia rejects this suggestion. They’ve been operating a policy you might call implausible deniability. Putin's spokesman says he has no information about the attack and that Russia is prepared to help with the "tragic situation."

If the British government wants to turn assumptions into accusations it needs proof -- hence the hundreds of detectives racing to piece the case together. But even if it finds it, what then? If Britain wants to face down Putin, it may have to do better than its current threat, that its officials won’t attend the soccer World Cup in Russia.

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