Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Monday that he had tricked a Russian intelligence operative into confessing to the botched attempt to kill him in August this year, and divulging that the poison meant to do the job was placed on the inside of Navalny’s underwear.
In a YouTube video titled “I called my killer. He confessed.”, Navalny is seen speaking over the phone at length with the intelligence officer, who Navalny and the investigative research group Bellingcat have said is a chemical weapons specialist with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The video has clocked over 1.8 crore views since it was released on Monday.
Navalny, who is a lawyer-turned-activist, came to prominence in 2008 after he started exposing corruption in Russian politics through a blog. In 2018, he was barred from standing against Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections.
He has also been arrested on multiple occasions. Since he started political campaigning, Navalny has spearheaded many anti-corruption rallies in Russia, and is considered to be the face of the opposition in a country which has long been known to eliminate dissidents and spies by poisoning them.
The botched assassination attempt
In August this year, Navalny was in the eastern region of Siberia meeting supporters campaigning in local elections. According to a report by Bellingcat and The Insider, Russian intelligence operatives trained in poisons, who had been trailing Navalny for years, were nearby him around this time.
On August 20, Navalny fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia. After the plane made an emergency landing, he was first taken to a hospital in the city of Omsk, from where he was later transferred to Berlin’s Charite Hospital while still in a coma. Tests performed at the German hospital showed the presence of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
The Russian government denied any involvement in the poisoning.
The alleged ‘underwear plot’
In the video released on Monday, Navalny said he spoke with a man who he said was Konstantin Kudryavtsev, supposedly belonging to a team of eight who had been tasked with poisoning Navalny. Agencies including Reuters and the Associated Press, however, have said they are yet to independently identify the man speaking to Navalny in the video as Kudryavtsev.
Navalny, who is currently recuperating in Germany, said he made the phone call using software that made it appear as if he was calling from the FSB, and pretended to be an assistant to the secretary of the Russian Security Council. In the video, Navalny is seen speaking in a no-nonsense tone, and tells the man on the other side of the phone that he was preparing an urgent report about “what went wrong” with the alleged poisoning plot, and why Navalny survived.
A few minutes into the call, the man alleged to be Kudryavtsev confessed that the motive of the mission was to kill Navalny, and that the dissident could survive the attempt thanks to the emergency landing that the pilot made at Omsk, and because of the “prompt work of the ambulance medics on the runway”.
“If it had taken just a little bit longer then, possibly, everything would have ended differently. You see, this is where coincidence is the worst factor we can have in our work,” the man is heard saying.
The man then told Navalny that he had flown from Moscow to Omsk twice since the botched attempt to recover from local authorities the clothes that Navalny was wearing on that day, in order to remove traces of poison from them.
Navalny then inquired about where the toxin was placed, to which the man confessed that it was applied along the seams of Navalny’s blue underwear. The man explained that no traces of the poison could be traced on Navalny’s body as the substance was capable of being “absorbed quickly”.
At a point in the call, Navalny asks, “Why did nothing work out?” to which the voice responds, “Well, I’ve asked myself this question more than once.”
Unedited transcripts of the phone call, which Navalny said lasted 49 minutes, have been published by Bellingcat and The Insider.
How Russia has reacted since
As per a TASS news agency report, the FSB has called the video clip “fake”, and said the Navalny’s investigation was a “planned provocation aimed at discrediting the FSB which could not have been carried out without the organizational and technical support of international intelligence agencies.”
Last week, President Putin too alleged that Navalny “relies on the support of US special services.” He said, “It’s curious, and in that case, special services indeed need to keep an eye on him. But that doesn’t mean that there is a need to poison him. Who would need that?”
The Russian leader, who is entering his 22nd year in power, has even told journalists with a laugh that if Russian operatives wanted to kill Navalny, “they would have probably finished the job.”
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