The not-really-so-mysterious deaths of Chechens in Turkey – and towards a future of ‘extrajudicial killings’

My latest Moscow News column looks at the assassination of three Chechens in Istanbul and the likelihood that it was a Russian intelligence operation (whether by the FSB, SVR or GRU). Obviously, assassinations are essentially Bad Things, and criminals ought to have their guilt proven in a court. While writing it, though, I did come to wonder how and why this was different from the drone strikes we see every week, Mossad (presumably) killing a Hamas leader in Dubai or, indeed, the operation against Osama Bin Laden. That’s a real, not a polemical question: in an age when terrorism is commonly transnational, and when the mechanisms for having insurgents (or their fund-raisers, logistical managers and ideological recruiting sergeants) arrested, tried or extradited are so often complex and legally- and politically-fraught, are we heading into a future in which such actions will become more, not less common? There’s already quite a solid body of academic literature in law, politics and intelligence journals on assassinations – ‘extrajudicial killings’ as the favored euphemism goes – which also reflects policy discussions. In an age in which high-speed communications has conditioned us and our masters also to high-speed responses, the temptation to reach for the quick kinetic fix must often be hard to resist for those powers with the covert capacity to carry out such operations and the geopolitical muscle (or indifference) to pay the potential political price.

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