In what he was told was an interrogation, Konstantin Kudryavtsev also talked about others involved in the poisoning in the Siberian city of Tomsk, and how he was sent to clean things up.
But the agent didn’t speak to a Russian National Security Council official as he had thought. He was talking to Navalny himself, who nearly died after being poisoned in August.
Navalny has long been a thorn in President Vladimir Putin’s side, exposing corruption in high-ranking offices and waging a campaign against the ruling United Russia party.
The Bellingcat-CNN investigation found that an FSB poison team of about six to 10 agents had tracked Navalny for more than three years. After identifying most of the team members, CNN and Bellingcat attempted to contact them and their superiors.
A man named Oleg Tayakin closed the door when CNN interrogated him. Others did not respond.
Meanwhile, Navalny was making calls. At first, he told clients who he was, and whoever called them immediately hung up. In the last call with Kudryavtsev, his team decided to take a different approach: a biting operation.
How Navalny did it
Navalny, who is still recovering in a secret location in Germany, pretended to be a senior official from Russia’s National Security Council charged with carrying out an analysis of the poisoning. His phone number was disguised as the FSB headquarters number, according to Navalny’s team, and a recording of the call was later provided to CNN and Bellingcat.
After Kudryavtsev confirmed his identity, Navalny said he was tasked with “getting a brief understanding from the team members: What went wrong, and why was there a complete failure in Tomsk with Navalny?”
Kudryavtsev’s responses to the 45-minute call provide the first direct evidence of the unit’s involvement in the poisoning of Navalny.
It is clear that sometimes he is afraid to speak on an insecure tongue, but Navalny, who has sometimes spoken in a blunt and urgent manner, persuades him that senior officials are demanding a report immediately and says that “all this will be discussed in the Security Council at the highest level.”
Why was the underwear targeted?
Kudryavtsiev gave the most dramatic description of how a nerve gas was applied to a pair of Navalny’s underwear.
Navalny asked, “What kind of clothing is the focus on? What is the most dangerous piece of clothing?”
Kudryavtsev simply replied: “Underwear.”
Navalny followed this up by asking exactly where to apply Novichok – internal or external seams.
Kudryavtsev replied: “The insides, the crotch.”
Toxicologists consulted by CNN say that if it was applied in the form of pellets to clothes, Novichok would be absorbed through the skin as the victim begins to sweat.
The investigation by Bellingcat and CNN used thousands of phone records as well as flight data and other documents obtained by Bellingcat to track down the team of toxicologists. It proved that on the night that Novichok somehow entered the Navalny Hotel room, there was a call from a cell phone of one of the poison team, Alexei Alexandrov, a few hundred meters from the hotel.
Kudryavtsev recognized Alexandrov’s knowledge and praised his work.
CNN cannot confirm that Kudriavtsev was also present in Tomsk when the poison was applied. But the call showed that he had intimate knowledge of what had been done and that he had participated in the cleaning process to ensure there were no traces of Novichok after Navalny had left hospital.
Navalny suddenly fell ill on the return flight to Moscow and the pilot turned to Omsk, where he received emergency life-saving treatment from paramedics.
Had the plane had flown to Moscow, Navalny would almost certainly have died, according to toxicologists consulted by CNN.
“The journey takes about three hours, and this is a long one,” Kudryavtsev said. “If you hadn’t landed the plane, the effect would have been different and the result would be different. So I think the plane played the decisive role.”
“[We] I didn’t expect all of this to happen. I’m sure everything went wrong, ”Kudriavtsev added – indicating that the FSB’s intention was to kill Navalny, several toxicologists familiar with Novichuk have said.
When Kudryavtsev pushed as to whether it was possible to administer the wrong dose of the poison, Kudryavtsev replied: “According to my understanding, we added [a] A little extra. “
Kudryavtsev’s background indicates that he is a specialist in chemical and biological weapons. He graduated from the Moscow branch of the Russian Academy of Chemical Defense. Bellingcat established that he would later work for the Department of Defense’s 42nd center – the Biosecurity Research Center.
The Bellingcat-CNN investigation, which also included the German magazine Der Spiegel and the Russian online publication The Insider, had already demonstrated through flight data that Kudriavtsev had flown to Omsk on August 25, after five days of poisoning.
“When we arrived, they gave it to us, the local Omsk youth brought it [them] With the police, “Kudryavtsev said on the call. He added that they had implemented solutions, so that they would not leave any traces on the clothes.
“So there will be no clothes surprises?” Navalny asked.
Kudryavtsev replied: “That’s why we went there several times.”
Later, Kudryavtsev says, “I was asked to work meticulously with underwear on the inside.”
Navalny asked, “Who said that?
Kudryavtsev replied, “Yes.”
Stanislav Makshakov is a scientist who was identified in the investigation as in charge of the poison team, which is based in the FSB Crime Unit on the outskirts of Moscow. He previously worked as a colonel at the Shekhani Institute, a Soviet research institute and later Russian on chemical weapons.
The investigation, published last week, uncovered details of the poison team’s communications and travel, which showed that they had kept Navalny on more than 30 trips outside Moscow since 2017. The data also revealed high-level contacts between the poison unit and laboratories in Russia that specialize in the research. Nerve agents.
Putin and other Russian officials rejected the Bellinkat and CNN investigation as part of a campaign organized by Western intelligence agencies. On Friday, Putin said it represented a kind of “information war” – describing the investigation as “a dumping ground where everything is dumped, dumped, and dumped in the hope that it will impress citizens and instill distrust toward the political leadership.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov admitted to the surveillance operation on Navalny because of – in his words – the “ears of the growing” foreign special services. ”
What the agents saw and Navalny
Navalny told CNN on Monday that he did not believe the new revelations would lead to an investigation in Russia. “It became clear that Putin was personally behind this,” he said.
He added that he was shocked to speak to Kudryavtsev. “Of course, I was amazed and could not believe it,” he said. “At the same time because of my luck and the way he routinely says phrases like” The job is well done. “Obviously, he doesn’t consider himself a member of an assassination team, just an ordinary employee.”
In an almost surreal moment during the call, Navalny sympathized with Kudryavtsev that he had survived.
He continued, “You have been making many trips with Navalny – to Kirov in 2017 – how would you rate his character?”
Kudryavtsev replied: “Very cautious, afraid of everything – on the one hand.” “But on the other hand – he goes everywhere etc. He changes rooms sometimes, very carefully about that.”
Then he was asked if Navalny had recognized any of the poison team.
“It’s unlikely, we are very strict about that, changing clothes and everything,” he said, adding that the team made various trips as Navalny went through Russia.
It seems that Kudryavtsev was proud of the team’s security measures. “No one has been photographed, no one has seen it, that’s always out of the question.”
He almost certainly was right about that. Navalny told CNN that he did not recognize Kudryavtsev or other members of the team when they showed their photos earlier this month. But this investigation showed that the FSB poison team from the Crime Institute left a lot of other evidence of their movements, communications, and activities.
Among those clues is Kudryavtsev’s cell phone number – by which he inadvertently allowed Bellingcat and CNN to complete the Navalny poison picture by the Russian state.
CNN reached out to Kudryavtsev and the Kremlin for comment.
CNN’s Anna Chernova, Mary Ilyushina and Daria Tarasova contributed to writing this story.