Russian intelligence agents followed Alexei Navalny for years before poisoning him with the nerve agent novichok in August, it has been revealed.
A joint investigation between Bellingcat and Russian news site The Insider found that an undercover hit squad working for Russia’s FSB spy agency poisoned the vocal critic of Vladimir Putin, having shadowed him on multiple previous trips
Citing “voluminous” telecoms and travel data, Bellingcat reports that the FSB squad had been tailing Navalny since 2017, around the same time that he announced that he would run for president against Putin.
The investigative news site said it believes the August poisoning had been approved “at the highest echelons of the Kremlin”, appearing to confirm Navalny’s claim that Putin had ordered the attempted assassination.
The investigation website found that three men travelled with the opposition figure to Tomsk, where he was eventually poisoned. It names the three men as doctors Alexey Alexandrov and Ivan Osipov, and Vladimir Panyaev.
The activist is reported to have ordered a Bloody Mary while meeting colleagues for a drink in his hotel, but having been informed that the hotel did not have the ingredients, opted for a negroni at the suggestion of the bartender. He later told an interviewer that it “tasted like the most disgusting thing I’ve had in my life”. He fell ill the next morning.
“Russia’s response… is almost certain to follow the familiar pattern of denial, mockery and often absurd attempts at obfuscation,” writes The Times’ Moscow correspondent Marc Bennetts. And while it may see the UK and EU “increase sanctions on Russia”, it is “unlikely to have much impact on Putin’s reputation” within the country, he adds.