Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was stalked, trailed, and spied on for more than three years before Russian intelligence agents allegedly poisoned him with a novichok-type nerve agent, according to a new investigation published by Bellingcat on Monday.
The extensive investigation by Bellingcat, the Insider, Der Spiegel, and CNN names two Russian doctors working with at least six Russian Security Service, or FSB, operatives who trailed Navalny, flying with him at least 30 times, and possibly attempting to poison him at least once before successfully doing so in August 2020 in the Siberian city of Tomsk.
The key operatives, named as Alexey Alexandrov, Ivan Osipov, and Vladimir Panyaev, took orders from five higher-level FSB agents, a few of whom traveled to the hospital in Omsk where Navalny was taken after collapsing on a flight from Tomsk. A separate investigation by the Times of London newspaper alleges that the same agents tried to poison Navalny again before he was flown to Berlin.
The Bellingcat report points to sudden peaks of communication among the agents in the hours before Navalny was exposed to the poison on the morning of Aug. 20, 2020, before boarding a flight to Moscow.
Using telecom and travel records, the investigation shows that FSB agents started their surveillance in 2017 after Navalny announced his plan to challenge Vladimir Putin in the presidential election. FSB experts in poisonous substances then started flying on the same flights with the Russian opposition leader, picking up the pace again in 2019 and 2020, when they flew with him to the same destinations no less than 30 times.
The investigation does not rule out previous attempts to use the deadly poison, including one credible attempt in the western city of Kaliningrad a month before he collapsed into a coma on the flight from Tomsk to Moscow.
Navalny was originally taken to a hospital in Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing, but doctors there ruled out any sign of poisoning. Days later, Navalny was medevaced to the Charite Hospital in Berlin, where that diagnosis was reversed.
Working with European labs and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, researchers in Berlin identified a toxin in Navalny’s system from the same family as Novichok, which was used to poison former Russian-U.K. double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in 2018 in the British city of Salisbury. The toxin Navalny ingested was not included on the list of banned nerve agents generated after the Skripal poisoning, according to Bellingcat, which says that it was likely a more recent generation of nerve agents.
The U.S. administration and several European governments have blamed Russia for Navalny’s poisoning. Russia has denied culpability and Putin has suggested that he and the Russian government actually saved Navalny’s life. The poisoning is not currently under investigation by any country.
Navalny himself on Monday morning posted a TikTok showing himself at a string-strewn investigation wall, captioned “When you investigate your own murder...” and lip-syncing to OMC’s 1996 hit “How Bizarre.”