It's the stuff of a simplistic plot device in a modern spy thriller: Computer-enhanced video that zeroes in on two suspicious characters and conveniently puts faces and names to the bad guys.
Except it's real life and state surveillance in the United Kingdom has progressed to the point that police there have been able to identify two Russian military intelligence officers, Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, as the likely perpetrators of the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in the quiet city of Salisbury last March.
Thanks to the fact that the U.K. is bestrewn with surveillance cameras – there is one for every 11 people – police have traced the two agents from the flight that brought them to Britain, on to Salisbury, and then to a flight back to Moscow. The police were aided by sophisticated software, as well as by old-fashioned detective work.
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The police have also produced photos of what they say is the perfume bottle used by the pair to transport a deadly nerve agent called Novichok, which was used in the attempt to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury.
Britain has charged the two agents with attempted murder and there are international warrants out for their arrest. But the U.K. won't seek extradition of the two men, knowing full well the Russian government won't give up two of its agents – not even two bungling ones who managed to expose themselves and their identities.
Russia, meanwhile, feigns innocence. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson says the government has no idea who the two men are.
But Russia's credibility was already low before this development. It is accepted as fact that it interfered with the 2016 U.S. election, meddled in Ukraine and planned a failed coup in Montenegro.
Now, two of its known agents have been caught live on camera in Britain, appearing to carry out an attempted killing on foreign soil.
This is a huge embarrassment for the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. It's also an opportunity for Britain and its Western allies to increase sanctions and other pressures on Russia, and get it to stop playing spy games.