A Russian agent has inadvertently revealed how Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent by the country’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
The agent, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, made the admission during a 49-minute phone call with Navalny himself, who was posing as a fictitious high-ranking security official conducting a debriefing of the operation to poison the opposition leader in the Siberian city of Tomsk in August.
During the call, which used software to make it appear it originated from an FSB phone line, Kudryavtsev admits security officials put the rare and deadly chemical nerve agent in Navalny’s underwear expecting it would kill the 44-year-old as he flew back from Tomsk to Moscow.
Navalny fell violently ill on the flight shortly after takeoff, prompting the crew to make an emergency landing in the city of Omsk. He was hospitalized for days before being flown to Berlin, where doctors concluded that he had been poisoned with a nerve agent.
Russian agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev admitted during the call to putting a deadly nerve agent in Navalny’s underwear.
“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. That is, if it hadn’t been for the prompt work of the medics, the paramedics on the landing strip, and so on,” said Kudryavtsev, who was part of a cleanup operation to destroy evidence and not part of the operation that administered the substance.
Laboratory tests in three European countries, confirmed by the global chemical weapons watchdog, established that Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style Novichok nerve agent similar to the one identified by British authorities as the toxin used in the near-fatal poisoning of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in 2018 in the English city of Salisbury.
But Russia has rejected calls for an investigation into the poisoning and denies the involvement of the FSB, the successor of the KGB, the notorious Soviet-era secret police force that ceased operating in 1991 during the breakup of the Soviet Union, saying it has yet to be shown any proof.
President Vladimir Putin claimed on December 17 during a year-end press conference that Navalny, long a thorn in his side, “is supported by the U.S. secret services,” which is why Russia’s secret services “must keep an eye on him, but it does not mean that it is necessary to poison him.”
“Who needs him? If they wanted to, they would have finished the job,” Putin said.
But the revelation of the call adds further evidence to the contrary.
It comes exactly one week after a joint investigation between Bellingcat and several media outlets produced “voluminous evidence” in the form of telecoms and travel data, implicating the FSB.
The investigation by Bellingcat and the Insider, a Russian investigative website, along with the cooperation of Der Spiegel and CNN, showed the poisoning of the Kremlin critic appeared to have been in the works since at least early 2017.
Bellingcat said the investigation identified three FSB operatives from a clandestine unit traveled alongside Navalny to Novosibirsk and then followed him to the city of Tomsk where he was ultimately poisoned. The three were supported and supervised by “at least” five more FSB operatives, some of whom also traveled to Omsk, it said.
1 In 3 Russians Believe Navalny Was Poisoned
“The unintended confession adds significant new details to our understanding of the operation, including the exact manner in which, according to the FSB officer, the Novichok was administered. It also sheds light on Russia’s secret service’s efforts to destroy the evidence in the wake of what Kudryavtsev divulges was its failure to kill the opposition activist,” Bellingcat said in response to the Navalny call.
Navalny, who is currently in Germany where he is recovering from the poisoning, has accused Putin all along of ordering the attack on him and on December 21 called the whole affair “cooler than a Hollywood movie.”
“The evidence presented by us is so convincing that even the person who ordered the crime — President Putin –could not deny it and in fact confirmed that the magnificent eight who had been following me for almost 4 years were FSB officers,” Navalny wrote on December 21.
“It is clear that Putin could not say to the whole country: yes, I ordered the FSB to kill my political opponent. Therefore, he again started talking nonsense that there was no investigation, and all this was ‘legalized information from the CIA,’” Navalny added.
The European Union and Britain have imposed asset freezes and travel bans against six senior Russian officials believed to be responsible for the Navalny poisoning, as well as one entity involved in the program that has produced a group of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok.