Three members of a Kremlin hit squad alleged to have poisoned Russian politician Alexei Navalny were exposed last night.
They are said to have persecuted the outspoken critic Vladimir Putin for three years before they launched an assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok in August.
Moscow’s FSB agency – the successor to the KGB – reportedly began tracking down Mr Navalny after he announced plans to run against the Russian president.
The undercover teams included chemical weapons experts, doctors and secret agents with expertise in special operations, according to investigative website Bellingcat.
Agents reportedly monitored Mr Navalny on at least 37 trips before he was eventually poisoned on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August.
Pictured: Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia poses for a photo while he is in the hospital in Berlin
Navalny’s colleague Maria Pevchikh left Moscow en route to Siberia on the fateful journey – where she was allegedly pursued by the FSB – in a picture leaked to the Russian media
Moments of disaster: Alexei Navalny in an airport bus in Siberia on August 20, just before boarding the flight on which he passed out after suspected Novichok poisoning
Yulia Navalnaya (pictured visiting her husband at the hospital) reported symptoms during a visit to Kaliningrad in July that were similar to those on the flight, according to Alexei Navalny
How the ‘FSB plot’ developed
12. August: Three FSB conspirators buy plane tickets to Siberia after Navalny’s entourage booked a flight there
13 August: The alleged FSB team flies to Novosibirsk one day before Navalny’s arrival. Maria Pevchikh also flies to Siberia and is shadowed when leaving Moscow
17th August: Navalny travels to Tomsk, pursued by the alleged FSB activists. When he books a flight back to Moscow, the “conspirators” do the same thing minutes later
August 19th: Navalny has a drink in a hotel bar in Tomsk and leaves his room empty. Communication between members of the alleged FSB unit is increasing
20th of August: Navalny boarded the flight in Tomsk and fell seriously ill on board, forcing an emergency landing
August 22nd: The unconscious Navalny is flown to Berlin. A German military laboratory later finds evidence of Novichok
They would take parallel flights or trains, travel in twos or threes, mix up teams to avoid being detected, and use aliases frequently, the report said.
The chain of command leads to the top of the FSB and finally to Mr Putin.
44-year-old Navalny, leader of the opposition Progressive Party, fell ill after being exposed to the same nerve agent used against former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Wiltshire in 2018.
Last night, Mr Navalny said, ‘Case closed. I know who tried to kill me. I know where you live. I know where they work. I know their real names. I know their wrong names. I have their photos. ‘
The anti-corruption activist and father of two said he believed Putin ordered the operation after he announced he was running for the Russian presidency, adding, “We now have the villain, the cause, the murderers and the murder weapon.”
The Kremlin has denied Mr Putin’s involvement and has suggested that Mr Navalny work with the CIA in the US.
Bellingcat named three FSB officers who followed the lawyer on his trip from Moscow to Siberia in August, and another five agents are believed to have been involved in the operation.
These included Alexey Alexandrov, 39, a military doctor; Ivan Osipov, also a trained doctor; and Vladimir Panyaev, who pretended to be a lamp seller and was living in Mr. Navalny’s building until he was poisoned, when his registered address suddenly changed to that of FSB headquarters.
Panyaev, 40, actually works at the FSB’s Criminalistics Institute, also known as the Poison Factory, Bellingcat reported. On the website, which worked with CNN in the US, Der Spiegel in Germany and The Insider in Russia, telecommunications records and travel data, including flight manifestos, were used to track agents’ movements.
The same team may have made an earlier assassination attempt in July when Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia, fell ill while traveling with him to Kaliningrad.
Mr Navalny said he could have been poisoned by a cocktail in his hotel bar in the Siberian city of Tomsk the night before his flight back to Moscow. He asked for a Bloody Mary but was told that the bar did not have the ingredients and instead accepted a Negroni.
The inconspicuous building near Moscow, where a secret FSB unit is supposed to work, employing specialists with backgrounds in chemical and biological warfare
The alleged head of an FSB subunit works for a high-ranking official who reports to FSB director Alexander Bogdanov (pictured), who in turn reports to Putin
Navalny’s allies pointed at his archenemy Vladimir Putin (pictured), but the Kremlin has denied any involvement in the opposition leader’s illness
FSB agents followed Navalny and his adjutant Maria Pevchikh (pictured) on their trip to Siberia