Few people who have paid even cursory attention to how Russia conducts its internal affairs will be surprised that Moscow is implicated in the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.
Disturbing events, up to the murder of investigative journalists or dissidents or businessmen who have fallen foul of the authorities, are not unheard of in the country.
In 2010, the Wikileaks cables showed that American and European officials considered Russia to be riddled with corruption, with there being little differentiation between the government and organised crime. A Spanish prosecutor, José Grinda González, who has investigated Russian organised crime in Spain, said that Russia was a “virtual mafia state”.
Every attempt at a formal assessment of Russia reaches similar conclusions. According to Transparency International, it is one of the 40 most corrupt countries in the world.
Britain had already made clear its belief that Vladimir Putin’s administration was responsible for Litvinenko’s killing in 2006, by the alarming method of radioactive polonium. This is shameful conduct for any country, let alone a major power.
Consider one of the major governance scandals in Britain in recent years – MPs exaggerating their expenses – and compare it to the gangsterism that is par for the course in Russia, and you get an idea why so many people in the international elite flock to live in London, the capital of a stable and well-regulated country.
David Cameron has insisted that the UK is “toughening” its response to Moscow. London’s previous reaction, including expelling diplomats, was an important minimum response to such an outrage. But the depressing reality is that the chaos in Syria and the threat of Isis means that there is no prospect of a break in relations between the UK and Russia.
There is some solace to be taken from the fact that the wealthiest per capita nations are still western ones that operate strictly under the rule of law and set the template for prosperous, civilised societies.