One of the officers allegedly involved in the attempt to kill Alexei Navalny has confessed his role in the plot and revealed that the leader of the Russian opposition was apparently poisoned with his underwear.
Navalny phoned two members of the team from Russia’s FSB spy agency, who allegedly tried to assassinate him. One recognized him immediately and hung up. The second operative, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, was apparently tricked into believing that he was speaking to an aide who worked for a top FSB general.
The call was made hours before the Bellingcat investigative website details released last week of the eight FSB officers who allegedly poisoned Navalny.
Navalny survived the attempt to kill him in August and is recovering in Germany.
Posing as “Maxim Ustinov,” a fictitious assistant, Navalny asked Kudryavtsev for details of the operation and demanded to know what had gone wrong.
Unaware that he was being misled, Kudryavtsev apparently confirmed that the FSB was behind the poisoning. Navalny was told that the agent’s colleagues had applied novichok to the “inside seams” of the opposition leader’s underpants when Navalny was in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
A reconnaissance team had previously visited the Xander Hotel and turned off the CCTV cameras, Kudryavtsev said. Once the go-ahead was given, the operatives deployed the poison. It was previously thought that Navalny may have been exposed to the nerve agent through a cup of tea or a cocktail.
It now seems likely that the novichok was administered in the form of a spray or ointment, either through the hotel laundry service or by FSB agents who infiltrated Navalny’s hotel room. The underpants returned from the laundry on August 18, two days before it collapsed.
In early August 20, Navalny wore the poisoned pants. He then traveled to Tomsk airport and boarded a flight to Moscow. Shortly after takeoff, he fell seriously ill and collapsed. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk and Navalny was taken to hospital and hooked up to a ventilator.
When asked why he had survived, Navalny was told it was probably because his plane had made an emergency landing. If he had continued to Moscow, a journey of another three hours, he probably would not have survived, Kudryavtsev said. There were “many unknowns and nuances,” he added.
Kudryavtsev said he was sent to Omsk five days later to retrieve and disinfect Navalny’s clothes, including his underwear, to make sure all traces of the novichok had been removed. On the call, he told Navalny that the cleanup operation had been carried out effectively.
Navalny has demanded the return of his clothes from Russia. In September he complained that the FSB had destroyed possible evidence of his crime. He was flown from Russia to Berlin “completely naked,” he said.
“Considering that novichok was found on my body and that it is very likely to be infected by contact, my clothes are very important evidence,” he said. “I demand that my clothes be carefully packed in a plastic bag and returned to me.”
After her collapse, colleagues from Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation packed items from her hotel room. The video taken at the Xander hotel shows them pick up empty water bottles, handle them cautiously with plastic gloves. These were sent to Germany for analysis.
Kudryavtsev told Navalny that there were no traces of novichok on the bottles. According to Bellingcat, Kudryavtsev traveled to Omsk twice after the poisoning: once on August 25 and a second on October 2, 2020. Telephone records show that he was in regular contact with Colonel Stanislav Makshakov, the FSB officer who allegedly supervised the operation. .
European laboratories confirmed that Navalny was poisoned with novichok, the nerve agent used in Salisbury against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The apparent use of clothing as a delivery mechanism may explain why the poison took several hours to take effect and why Navalny ultimately survived.
Last week, Bellingcat identified three FSB agents from a clandestine unit who traveled with Navalny to the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. Among them were two doctors, Alexey Alexandrov and Ivan Osipov, and Vladimir Panyaev, whose role appears to have been that of recognition. The trio followed Navalny to Tomsk.
According to Bellingcat, citing flight and telecommunications data, at least five other FSB agents participated. Their latest report It mentions two other names, including a local FSB department head who was photographed at the Omsk hospital where Navalny was treated.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the FSB had followed Navalny on multiple trips, but said this was necessary as he was working for US intelligence, a claim Navalny denies.
Moscow has said it has yet to see evidence of a crime and refused to open an investigation. It suggests that Navalny was poisoned in Germany, or while on board the medical evacuation plane that took him into a coma to Berlin.
Russia has officially destroyed its chemical weapons. However, last week Bellingcat identified three state institutes that appear to be behind a covert nerve agent program. They all communicated closely with the GRU operatives linked to the Salisbury plot.
One seems to have developed new “nanoencapsulation techniques”. This “relatively new technology could allow a lethal toxin to be ‘packaged’ within a layer of another substance, allowing both obfuscation and delayed appearance of the poison.” Bellingcat reported.
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