Russian Poet Dmitry Bykov Targeted by Navalny Poisoners
In a December 2020 investigation, Bellingcat and its partners identified seven FSB officers who had tailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny on more than 35 trips around Russia since early 2017. Three members of this group – which included chemical weapons experts, medical doctors and security operatives – had shadowed Navalny to Novosibirsk and onward to Tomsk, during his August 2020 trip to Siberia. Navalny fell into a near-fatal coma on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 21 August 2020, the result of what three European laboratories and the OPCW later identified as severe Novichok poisoning. The telephone of one member of the FSB team was geolocated within walking distance of the hotel Navalny was staying the night before he fell ill.
During a phone call with Navalny, one of the members of the FSB team – Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a chemical engineer with a military chemical weapons background, stated that the FSB team poisoned the Russian politician, and subsequently tried to cover its tracks by removing traces of the nerve agent from the victim’s clothes.
Subsequent investigations by Bellingcat identified significant correlations between the travels of members of this FSB squad, and previously unexplained poisonings or deaths of several other public figures – including the twice near-fatal poisoning of outspoken opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. Other likely targets included two human rights activists in the Caucasus as well as an anti-corruption activist.
As the number of investigated cases grew, a pattern emerged in each poisoning case showing collaborative action of two FSB departments: secret service operatives from the anti-extremism department of the FSB’s Second Service, on one hand, and chemical weapons specialists with chemistry or medical backgrounds from FSB’s Criminalistics Institute, on the other. In the early stages, a poisoning target would be tailed by members of the Second Service, while the Criminalistics Institute experts would typically join them in the latter, implementation phase of each poisoning operation. In each case, members from both FSB units participated in the final, operational trips during which the victim was poisoned.
In addition, in each of the cases identified by Bellingcat, the poisoning took place outside of Moscow, typically during the victim’s trip to a provincial town. It is not clear whether this pattern is the result of preference for poisoning the targets in remote locations – where both access to the victim’s personal items in hotel rooms is easier, and the victim’s access to quality medical treatment is less likely – or the result of a selection bias, due to the fact that our initial clues to a poisoning incident are based on comparison of travel data.
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2021-06-09 | News, UK & Europe, FSB | English | BellingCat