As the reverberations of the death of Alexander Litvinenko continue, several interesting facts come to light.
Firstly, the killers who planted the Polonium 210 have left finger prints all over the crime scene. Not physically, but in the Polonium 210 itself. As we know, it is an extremely rare isotope. Not only that but the precise composition of the poison will identify the reactor that it came from.
That reactor will be Russian- it may well be the GRU reactor at the "Aquarium". It is a direct smoking gun.
Access to the poison will be very limited, and under the control of the Russian security service.
Smuggling the poison into the United Kingdom would be difficult and although there are various ways that it could have come, however there is a good chance that it simply came through the diplomatic bag.
The evidence that Russian security agents were involved is overwhelming- the Polonium could not have come from anywhere else.
The question for Britain now is what to do next?
The murder of a British citizen by agents of a foreign power would, in the nineteenth century, have been an act of war. In the twenty-first century it will have roused the British to a white lipped fury- in private.
Yet, we will have to act with the utmost restraint. We can not give a pretext to the Russians to attack BP or Shell's interests in the country. Neither do we wish to upset the delicate balancing act that is currently taking place in the European gas market, just ahead of the winter.
The critical question is whether or not the agents were under the orders of President Vladimir Putin, or merely under his protection.
Many people tell me that the Russian spying operations in Britain are now far more extensive than they were under the cold war. After all there are tens of thousands of Russian now living in London. Of course many are profound enemies of Mr. Putin, as Mr. Litvinenko was.
In the new Cold War that this murder creates, the key will be to use the interactions between Russia and the West to export freedom proactively- the failure and weakness of Russia is because they are not free or integrated enough, so they will have to deal with this some time.
In the olden days we would have expelled those spies in the diplomatic service for "activities incompatible". However several Russian spies now work for commercial organisations- and therefore could be arrested. We do not want to do that, since we would see tit for tat harassment of innocent British workers/tourists in Russia, as the recent anti-Georgian pogroms have shown. A diplomatic expulsion is a weaker but probably much safer symbol.
Russia has used the openness of the West against us- bribery and corruption have been used against us. However, Russia is no monolith and the West must now identify the different forces at work in the country. Perhaps Putin is an irresponsible KGB warmonger, determined to settle old scores, and who ordered this reckless murder to demonstrate his power.
Much more likely is that Putin can not control even his own security service. Russian weakness, in the current climate seems more likely and is more dangerous than Russian strength. Refusal to deliver gas is easier to solve than Russian inability to deliver gas.
If Putin ordered this, then his villainy will put him beyond the pale. If he did not, then Russian factionalism has undermined the discipline even of the much feared Russian Security apparatus.
Although the British would prefer the idea of the uncontrolled ex-KGB, in fact that makes Russia far more dangerous than the Putinist myth of the disciplined recovering Russia.
Indeed Russia now looks closer to collapse than ever.