Putin critic Navalny tricked a Russian agent into revealing he was poisoned with a nerve agent planted in his underwear

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny takes part in a rally in Moscow

  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny reportedly convinced a Russian security service agent that he was an aide to a high-ranking official who had requested a report on the August attempt on Navalny’s life.
  • The agent, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, revealed that the poison, a Novichok nerve agent, had been planted in Navalny’s underwear.
  • Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. Kudryavtsev told Navalny that if the plane had not made an emergency landing or medical personnel had responded a little slower, “maybe it all would have gone differently.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Opposition leader and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny tricked a Russian agent who tailed him prior to an attempt on his life in August into revealing that he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent planted in his underwear, Bellingcat reported Monday.

Posing as a fictitious aide to a senior Russian official, Navalny convinced reported Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who Bellingcat previously exposed as a player in the plot to kill the Russian opposition leader, that he was taking part in a debriefing.

“What went wrong?” Navalny asked. “Why the Navalny operation in Tomsk was a complete failure?”

Navalny fell violently ill on August 20 while flying from Tomsk to Moscow. The aircraft made an emergency landing, and he was taken to a hospital in Omsk, where he was put in a coma. He was then taken to Germany for further treatment, and it was there that it was determined that he was poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family, a collection of chemical weapons developed by the Soviet Union.

In October, a Bellingcat investigation revealed that Russia had been secretly running a chemical weapons program and that scientists involved in the program were in contact with state-operated assassins.

In his call with Kudryavtsev, Navalny asked how the poison was administered, asking specifically about clothing as the delivery medium.

“On which piece of cloth was your focus on? Which garment had the highest risk factor?” Navalny asked.

“The underpants,” Kudryavtsev replied, explaining that the poison was placed along the inside seams in the groin area. The operatives involved expected the poison to be absorbed into the body and not leave a trace.

The FSB agent revealed that a recon team switched off the cameras at Navalny’s hotel, clearing the way for the operations team to plant the poison.

When he asked why Navalny survived the attack, Kudryavtsev said things would have ended differently if the plane had not made an emergency landing or if medical personnel had been slower to respond.

“If it [the plane] had flown a little longer and they hadn’t landed it abruptly somehow and so on, maybe it all would have gone differently,” Kudryavtsev, who was part of the clean-up crew and not the hit squad, said. “That is, if it hadn’t been for the prompt work of the medics, the paramedics on the landing strip, and so on.”

CNN, which worked with Bellingcat on the latest investigation, reported that toxicology experts said Navalny would have probably died if the plane he was on had continued on to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged last week that the FSB had been tailing Navalny but denied that the security service had been involved in an attempt on his life.

“The intelligence agencies of course need to keep an eye on him,” Putin said, “but that does not mean that he needs to be poisoned – who needs him? If they had really wanted to, they would have probably finished the job.”

Navalny tried to engage other Russian security service agents, but they hung up on him after realising who he was.

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Identity of suspected Russian assassin involved in poisoning a Putin critic may have been identified in new report

Navalny
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his family members pose for a picture at Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, in this undated image obtained from social media September 15, 2020.

  • Bellingcat, CNN, Der Spiegel, and The Insider released a comprehensive investigation into the August assassination attempt on prominent critic Alexei Navalny.
  • In the course of the investigation, analysts tracked call metadata, looked at flight records, and scanned offline Russian databases to identify 15 individuals who they allege work within a hidden sub-unit of the Federal Security Service Criminalistics Institute. 
  • As part of the investigation, CNN international correspondent Clarissa Ward traveled to Russia and knocked on the door of Oleg Tayakin, who according to the report is a senior officer in the FSB’s secret chemical weapons unit.
  • In a video of the encounter, Tayakin can be seen locking his door and declining to answer questions. Ward, for her part, has received praise online for her adversarial, investigative journalism chops.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Monday, CNN and a host of other outlets dropped a bombshell investigation into the suspected poisoning and attempted assassination of prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny

In partnership with investigative outfit Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, and The Insider, the news organizations located and tracked down a web of alleged chemical weapon experts in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), who according to the report were responsible for poisoning Navalny. 

In the course of the investigation, analysts tracked call metadata, looked at flight records, and scanned offline Russian databases to identify 15 individuals who they allege in their reporting work within a hidden sub-unit of the FSB Criminalistics Institute. 

The investigative journalists also identified eight officers who they say were involved in tailing Navalny ever since his bid to run for president in 2017, reporting that FSB officers followed him on at least 30 flights in the last three years and knew his every move.

On August 20, Navalny collapsed while on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk, en route to Moscow. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized. Two days later, Navalny was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin, and doctors and chemical weapons experts ruled that he was poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a nerve agent within the Novichok family. 

The investigation also determined that Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was also targeted in a poisoning weeks earlier, which she recovered from. 

For CNN’s investigation, Ward traveled to Russia to investigate the hidden FSB unit and interview Alexei Navalny. Ultimately, in what fellow journalists are praising as an extremely brave segment, Ward and her CNN team travel to the home of Oleg Tayakin, who the report alleges is a senior officer who was involved in the assassination attempt.

“We’re here now at the home of one of the FSB team, and we are going to see if he has anything to say to us,” Ward says, entering his apartment complex and heading to his apartment door.

Tayakin, noticing the cameras, immediately starts closing his door, as Ward asks in Russian if she can ask a few questions. Ward switches to English and repeats her request for comment before switching between Russian and English, eventually asking, “Was it your team who poisoned Navalny?”

 

Tayakin quickly closes and locks his door. After a brief silence and once more request for comment, Ward said, “he doesn’t seem to want to talk to us.”

In light of the investigation and Tayakin’s high profile association with the Kremlin, many lauded Ward’s bravery for physically traveling to Tayakin’s apartment and bringing up the investigation to his face. In the course of the segment, Ward also reports from directly outside a secret FSB chemical weapons research complex, the SC Signal Institute, and retraces Navalny’s steps in the hotel where he was likely poisoned.

In a CNN interview, Ward also shares the details of the report with Navalny, who is shocked. He says it is “terrifying” and tells Ward, “These people, in the Kremlin, they are ready to kill.”

Read the Bellingcat report here »

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