Vladimir Putin issued a chilling threat to Novichok victim Sergei Skripal, saying of double agents: “A person who chooses this fate will regret it a thousand times.”
The Russian leader’s personal vendetta emerged as it was revealed Sergei’s daughter Yulia, 33, had only travelled to the UK to seek her dad’s blessing for her upcoming wedding.
And it comes less than a week after British authorities said the assassination attempt on the ex-KGB spy in March was “almost certainly” approved by the Russian state.
Putin’s personal interest in Sergei’s goes back as far as 2010, when he was one of four Moscow double agents exchanged with the US for 10 spies America had caught.
Asked at the time for his thoughts on the deal, Putin, a former KGB colonel, said: “A person gives over his whole life for his homeland and then some bastard comes along and betrays such people.
“How will he be able to look into the eyes of his children, the pig. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them. Believe me.”
He went on: “They will have to hide their whole lives. With no ability to speak with other people, with their loved ones.”
“You know, a person who chooses this fate will regret it a thousand times.”
Putin said he “of course” knew the names of those who had betrayed Russia. Asked if he would punish them, he said: “They live by their own rules, and these rules are well known by everyone in the intelligence services.”
In one interview the president described defectors or informants as “beasts” and “swine”, adding that treachery is the one sin he is incapable of forgiving.
He added: “Traitors always meet a bad end. As a rule they either die of heavy drinking or drug abuse.”
Sergei, 67, was one of the men released early from a prison sentence after he was convicted in 2006 for double-crossing his country.
Putin spoke out two years before grabbing back power in 2012, after he became angered at then leader Dmitry Medvedev’s friendship and co-operation with President Barack Obama.
The relationship between the two leaders allowed CIA director Leon Panetta to broker a deal with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov.
In June 2010, the FBI carried out Operation Ghost Stories sweeping up 10 KGB sleeper agents who had been operating in the States for nearly a decade.
Mr Panetta said he told Mr Fradkov: “These people are yours”, adding: “I said, ‘Look, we’re going to prosecute them; it could be very embarrassing for you.You’ve got three or four people who we want, and I propose we make a trade’.”
It led to Sergei being taken from his cell at Correctional Colony No. 5 in the Russian Republic of Mordovia and moved to Lefortovo prison in Moscow.
Once there, he met briefly with his family before being loaded on to a small plane belonging to Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations.
With him, the three other former prisoners were exchanged in Vienna.
Sergei, who was nicknamed The Spy with the Louis Vuitton Bag by other agents because of his taste for luxury goods, then moved to the UK, where he settled in Salisbury.
His imprisonment and subsequent exile, however, caused tremendous hardship on his family.
Throughout his career, Sergei had enjoyed the high life. Despite living in a shabby Moscow apartment block, friend Oleg Ivanov, who worked with him in the regional governor’s office, recalled how he loved to portray a lavish lifestyle – including insisting on paying for everyone at a restaurant.
He said: “That was something that set him apart. I don’t know where this came from. By his psychological type, he was a materialist. He simply loved money.”
Mr Ivanov offered it as a reason why Sergei would go on to betray his country. In 1996, while posted in Madrid undercover in the office of the Russian military attache, Sergei entered into a deal with a Spanish intelligence agent.
It led to him “bumping” into a recruiter from Britain’s foreign intelligence service. Sergei’s handler said they had been meeting secretly since 1996, with the spy passing on secrets for £77,000, bolstering his meagre Russian salary.
On his return to his country, authorities discovered Sergei’s treachery and, in 2006 he was charged. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 15 years, five less than the maximum, and the judge reduced it to 13 because he was cooperative.
On the outside the conviction, as well as the shame, took a toll on his wife Lyudmila and children.
They tried to keep it a secret because neighbours assumed he had left Lyudmila for another woman, as he was no longer seen.
Next-door neighbour Ivan Fedoseyev, 76, said: “It was embarrassing to ask about it.”
His wife was quickly reduced to begging for money.
According to Sergei’s niece Viktoria Skripal, Lyudmila could no longer afford to send the monthly sum her husband needed in prison, for food and toiletries, so she asked that his mother’s pension, roughly £380 or £460 a month, be diverted to him.
At one point Lyudmila begged the defence minister to restore her husband’s pension after he had been stripped of it.
She wrote: “I am forced to appeal to you for help due to the difficult situation that I, a pensioner, find myself in at the current time.”
For her efforts, over two years, she was awarded 33,148 rubles and 89 kopeks, worth about £760 at the time.
But Lyudmila’s health deteriorated. She was unable to afford medical bills and died from cancer in 2012, two years and three months after the spy swap.
Sergei’s son Sasha then died five years later after battling alcoholism due to his father’s situation, collapsing on a weekend trip to St Petersburg.
The former spy’s only direct family member left was his daughter, Yulia, who was back in Moscow with her boyfriend. She had sold her father’s apartment, furniture and the double-headed eagle, the symbol of Russia, that he hung on the wall.
She bought herself a small place in western Moscow as she planned her marriage to Stepan Vikeev, who has not been seen since the poisoning.
Knowing her father would be unable to travel to the ceremony in Moscow, Yulia travelled to Salisbury on March 3 seeking his blessing for the wedding.
A day earlier, two Russian intelligence officers arrived in London aboard a different Aeroflot flight, carrying a specially made bottle disguised as a vial of Nina Ricci’s Premier Jour perfume, loaded with a military-grade nerve agent.
As Yulia went through customs at Heathrow Airport, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were already in Salisbury, carrying out surveillance ahead of the attack.
The next day, the two men coated Sergei’s front door with deadly novichok, hoping the final members of the Skripal family would die and Putin’s revenge be assured.
Death theory on hitmen ‘a Kremlin ruse’
Russian claims that the Novichok assassination team have been “bumped off” were last night dismissed as “Kremlin mischief-making” by senior British intelligence sources.
Hit-men Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were said to have been killed already or are in great danger, according to one of the Putin regime’s critics.
Political analyst Andrei Pionkovsky claimed the team – from Russian military intelligence – could be executed to erase all traces of the crime on British soil.
Comparing it to the Litvinenko murder and the shooting down of yesterday he said: “If ‘Petrov’ and ‘Bashirov’ don’t appear in the coming days. . .they are already dead.”
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But his claims were dismissed last night by a British military intelligence source who said the pair would be treated as”heroes.”
The source said: “They will be treated as heroes. Killing them off would not serve Putin as it would damage morale of other officers.
“They may not be seen out in public but it does not mean they have been killed. Far from being bungled this operation mostly seemed to have gone reasonably well.
“It is highly possible these claims about them being killed are being spread to account for their disappearance as it will make them less arrestable or serves some political purpose.
“The two men can be used to train other GRU operators, showing where things can go wrong, as happened slightly with the disposing of the perfume bottle which killed Dawn Sturgess.
“Nevertheless they delivered the nerve agent correctly, it seems, without raising suspicion and they made their escape quickly and efficiently without being stopped.
“Sergei Skripal was not killed, true, but the message hit home the Putin’s enemies can be tracked down and the other victims will be seen cold-heatedly as casualties of war.”
Our source added that comparisons with Litvinenko’s murder were unrealistic because in that case the two suspects openly met him in public so they had to be seen once in Russia.
And in the case of the downing of MH-17, in which 298 people died, those officers thought to have been murdered are thought to have been killed because it was a mistake.
Our source said: “In the case of the Novichok attack it is doubtful it will be viewed as bungled since they executed it pretty well.”
It comes amid a wave of abuse Britain by Moscow’s state-run media which blasted an “epidemic of lies” over Novichok by Theresa May’s government.
Named by anti-terrorist police as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the Russian pair are suspected by London of being GRU military intelligence agents who “poisoned” Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
State TV launched a new offensive on Britain over the accusations that GRU agents using the names Petrov and Boshirov were behind the chemical weapon poisoning in Salisbury.
The Vesti Nedeli show accused London of an “epidemic of lies”, with presenter Dmitry Kiselyov – dubbed Putin’s propagandist-in-chief, claiming May was using the Skripal case to cover-up the “failure” of her Brexit policy.
This was echoed by Russia’s representative at the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, who claimed Britain had experienced a “degradation” of its “political culture”.
He said: “It is difficult to imagine a serious court, even in the UK, for example, agreeing to examine the arguments of the British side.
“No one needs the truth, as a new, absolutely unique and efficient political ploy has been introduced ― lodging charges and pointing at the guilty without any proof.”
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