The New York Times

A Spy Story: Sergei Skripal Was a Little Fish. He Had a Big Enemy.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

MOSCOW — Sergei V. Skripal was a little fish.

This is how British officials now describe Skripal, a Russian intelligence officer they recruited as a spy in the mid-1990s. When the Russians caught Skripal, they saw him that way, too, granting him a reduced sentence. So did the Americans: The intelligence chief who orchestrated his release to the West in 2010 had never heard of him when he was included in a spy swap with Moscow.

But Skripal was significant in the eyes of one man — Vladimir Putin, an intelligence officer of the same age and training.

The two men had dedicated their lives to an intelligence war between the Soviet Union and the West. When that war was suspended, both struggled to adapt.

One rose, and one fell. While Skripal was trying to reinvent himself, Putin and his allies, former intelligence officers, were gathering together the strands of the old Soviet system. Gaining power, Putin began settling scores, reserving special hatred for those who had betrayed the intelligence tribe when it was most vulnerable.

Six months ago, Skripal was found beside his daughter, Yulia, slumped on a bench in an English city,

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