The Times explains the significance of this by stating Russian “intelligence operatives now appear prepared to cross a line that they previously avoided” in the attempted assassination.
“The red lines are long gone for Putin,” Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA officer who oversaw operations in Europe and Russia, told the Times. “He wants all these guys dead.”
The target was Aleksandr Poteyev, a former Russian intelligence officer who disclosed information that led to a yearslong FBI. investigation that in 2010 ensnared 11 spies living under deep cover in suburbs and cities along the East Coast. They had assumed false names and worked ordinary jobs as part of an ambitious attempt by the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, to gather information and recruit more agents.
The assassination attempt on Poteyev, chronicled in the new book Spies: The Epic Intelligence War Between East and West by Calder Walton, a scholar of national security and intelligence at Harvard, eventually failed, but escalated tensions between American and Russian intelligence services.
According to Mr. Walton’s book, a Kremlin official asserted that a hit man, or a Mercader, would almost certainly hunt down Mr. Poteyev. Ramón Mercader, an agent of Joseph Stalin’s, slipped into Leon Trotsky’s study in Mexico City in 1940 and sank an ice ax into his head. Based on interviews with two American intelligence officials, Mr. Walton concluded the operation was the beginning of “a modern-day Mercader” sent to assassinate Mr. Poteyev.
The New York Times has independently confirmed Walton’s reporting of the facts, and the bungling of the attempted assassination by Hector Alejandro Cabrera Fuentes, a microbiology scientist from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Russia had coerced Fuentes, who had no experience as a spy, into helping with the plot by not allowing his Russian wife and her two daughters to leave the country. Fuentes also had a wife in Mexico.
He later confessed to the plan when he was caught trying to flee to Mexico and US Customs and Border Protection found a photo of Poteyev’s vehicle on his phone.