A report from UK judge Robert Owen shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin “probably” ordered the assassination of former intelligence officer and dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Mr Litvinenko defected to London in 2000 and had threatened to expose sensitive information about the Putin regime and alleged high levels of corruption in the Federal Security Service (FSB).
But his death ironically confirmed his accusations, proving that little has changed in Russia since the end of the Cold War. Mr Putin has been attempting to repair the country and reinforce the FSB and the security state. To achieve this, he required full support and loyalty from the FSB. None of that was possible while Mr Litvinenko was free to criticise Moscow with impunity.
In the Western Pacific, the US guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) by sailing within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island near Paracel Islands group. Control of the Paracels is disputed between China and Vietnam. China condemned the US transit saying the warship entered Chinese territory. Washington rejected that claim.
However, the FONOP highlights that the connecting glue between the major players in the region (China, Japan and the US) is freedom of navigation. Trillions of dollars of goods float across the waters each year and the US demand to sail anywhere, anytime is a bedrock of international law. The various military actions are likely only posturing, not a prelude to war. But the presence of impressive numbers of military equipment in the region increase the likelihood of miscalculation.
Further north, the US announced it could enter into talks with South Korea about the potential deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) battery on the peninsula. Seoul is increasingly concerned that North Korean submarine and land-based ballistic missile programmes are more advanced than currently understood.
Although Seoul has been discussing the deployment for years, the major obstacle is China. Beijing is concerned that the deployment would introduce a stronger anti-ballistic missile capability to Asia, undermining China’s nuclear deterrent and shifting the balance of power in the region. Seoul wishes to become more independent of the US and says it will decide on the deployment this year.