In August 2020, Alexei Navalny went on a business trip to Siberia to shoot videos about the corruption of local deputies and officials, members of the United Russia party on the eve of regional elections. He was accompanied on this trip by six employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation — Maria Pevchikh and Georgy Alburov from the Investigation Department, lawyer Vladlen Los, operator Pavel Zelensky, FBK press secretary Kira Yarmysh and assistant Ilya Pakhomov. The first group arrived in Novosibirsk on August 13; the next day they were joined by Alexei, as well as Kira and Ilya. In Novosibirsk, Navalny filmed an investigation with the team and held a meeting with his supporters at the headquarters.
On August 17, Alexei and his team left Novosibirsk for Tomsk in one minibus. They arrived there at about 7 pm and stayed at the Xander Hotel, each in a separate room on the second floor. In Tomsk, Navalny, together with his team, also filmed an investigation and met with supporters at the headquarters.
Alexei spent August 19 on the streets of the city and in an apartment rented specifically for filming. At about 8 pm, he had a meeting at the headquarters, and then went to the village of Kaftanchikovo to swim in the Tom River. At about 11 pm, he returned to the hotel and met with the team at the hotel restaurant Velvet. There he ordered a Negroni, but it turned out to be so unpalatable that Alexei only took a couple of sips and went to bed at midnight.
Navalny, along with Kira Yarmysh and Ilya Pakhomov, flew to Moscow a day earlier than the others, on August 20. At 6 am, Alexei met Kira and Ilya in the hotel lobby, they got into a taxi and went to the airport. At that time, Navalny was feeling great. At the airport, he drank tea at the cafe called “Viennese Coffee House”, bought some candy at a store to bring the family as souvenirs, and then went to boarding.
The plane took off with a slight delay, at 8:01 am Tomsk time (4:01 am Moscow time). About 20 minutes after the start of the flight, Navalny felt sick.
Several people have asked me, “How does it feel to die from Novichok?” It is difficult to explain, because this is something that you never experience in ordinary life... Cold sweat is pouring down over you, and you’re feeling something — you start feeling really sick... You get the nagging feeling that you’re going to die now.
Navalny in an interview with Yuri Dud
As Alexei later said, he broke into a cold sweat, he lost concentration, he could not focus. There was no pain, only the feeling of impending death, which is impossible to describe. Alexei refused the water, which was distributed by the flight attendants, and went to wash his face in the toilet. He spent about 20 minutes there. At 8:50 am Tomsk time (4:50 am Moscow time), the flight attendants found out that a person on the plane became ill, and began to provide him with first aid. After 10 minutes, they asked over the speakerphone if there was a doctor among the passengers and reported the situation to the pilot. At 8:20 am Omsk time (5:20 am Moscow time) the board requested permission to land from the dispatchers of the Omsk airport. Permission was granted. A few minutes after that, the airport received a call with a bomb threat, and the evacuation of passengers began, but like two previous reports of bomb threats this month, it turned out to be a false alarm. The board landed unhindered.
The plane with Navalny landed in Omsk at 9:01 am local time (6:01 am Moscow time). A medical car from the Omsk airport was waiting for him on the runway. The medics got on the plane, examined Alexei and called the resuscitation team. When the ambulance arrived at the scene, Navalny was loaded onto a stretcher, placed in an ambulance and taken to the Ambulance Hospital No. 1 in Omsk. Kira Yarmysh went with him in the ambulance, Ilya Pakhomov arrived at the hospital later with Alexei's things. The ambulance left the airport at 9:37 am (6:37 am Moscow time).
Read about what happened during the next days in the Ambulance Hospital №1 in the “Hospitalization in Omsk” section. Navalny spent 44 hours there. On August 21, the family decided to evacuate him to Germany, and on August 22, at 7:59 am local time (4:59 Moscow time), the medical plane carrying Alexei Navalny, who was in a coma, flew from Omsk to the Berlin clinic Charité.
Alexei Navalny recovered from the coma on September 7. Since September 22, after being discharged from Charité, he continued his rehabilitation in Germany. At the end of October, Alexei and FBK employees were contacted by Christo Grozev, an investigative journalist for Bellingcat, who said that he had a hypothesis about who could have poisoned Navalny. FBK, Bellingcat and The Insider launched a joint investigation.
By that time, it was already known that chemical weapons from the Novichok group had been used against Navalny. On August 24, Charité stated that numerous laboratory tests had proved that Alexei had been poisoned with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors, which includes chemical warfare agents. Bundeswehr experts conducted an examination and found out that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok. Later, at the request of Germany, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) conducted its independent research in laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden and confirmed the conclusions of scientists from the Bundeswehr (more on this in the “International Position” section).
Novichok has been the subject of interest for Bellingcat investigators for several years now. In 2018, while investigating the attempt on the life of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, they established that the current GRU officers Anatoly Chepiga (Petrov) and Alexander Mishkin (Boshirov) participated in a special operation to poison the Skripals by Novichok in Great Britain. In the fall of 2020, Bellingcat and The Insider released an investigation about the continued production of chemical warfare agents in Russia in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the Moscow-based Signal Scientific Center, which is affiliated with the special services and plays an important role in their development. According to investigators, on the eve of all operations with the use of Novichok, including the one in Salisbury, GRU officers would call and meet with scientists from Signal. Bellingcat's hypothesis was that Navalny's poisoning could have been coordinated along the same lines.
Bellingcat's main method of operation is to analyze open source data and data that can be bought on the black market. In Russia, there is a developed market for “running people down”: for a small cost, you can get data from mobile network operators, airlines, police, border services, and so on. This is how Bellingcat investigators gained access to the details of calls made by Artur Zhirov, the director of Signal, and his subordinates. An analysis of the phone calls on the eve of Navalny's poisoning and directly after it showed an unusual surge in conversations between Signal employees and several subscribers whose identities were yet to be established. Investigators found out that these numbers are used by FSB officers.
This was established primarily through the use of special applications that allow you to determine how a particular number is recorded in the contact lists of other people. Some of the subscribers with whom the employees of Signal called up were saved in their contact lists as “Stanislav FSB” or “Vladimir FSB”. With the help of similar applications, you can find out which social network pages are tied to this number, whether the number is used to pay parking fees or fines and find out other information that allows you to identify, with a high degree of accuracy, the identity and places of residence and work of the subscriber.
Most of the FSB officers with whom Zhirov communicated are associated with the Institute of Criminalistics of the Center for Special Technology of the FSB. Zhirov's main contacts in those days were Colonel General Kirill Vasiliev, the director of this institute, and his chief, the director of the entire Center for Special Technology, Major General of the FSB Vladimir Bogdanov. They, in turn, often called Stanislav Makshakov, deputy head for science at the Institute of Criminalistics. Previously, Makshakov worked as a military medical scientist in the city of Shikhany, Saratov Oblast. Subsequently, it turned out that he had been studying the effect on the body of poisons similar to Novichok for many years. In Soviet times, Shikhany was home to the institute where this poisonous substance was created.
Officially, the Institute of Criminalistics (aka NII-2 FSB) is the main place for conducting examinations for the needs of the FSB. However, Belligcat and The Insider managed to find out that in the structure of this institute there is also a secret subdivision responsible for poisonings with chemical weapons. You can read more about this in the “Chemical Weapons of the FSB” section.
One of the divisions of the laboratory is located in Moscow, at the intersection of Akademika Vargi Street with Teplostansky Proezd, the other is in the Moscow Oblast, near the Podlipki sanatorium. Billing data indicated that it was from these two locations that FSB officers most often called Signal employees.
The detailing of Makshakov's calls showed that before and after the poisoning, he communicated with a group of about ten other FSB officers. Bellingcat then bought data on the movements of these people — and it turned out that some of them, starting in 2017, have followed Alexei Navalny on almost all his trips, both work and family.
The principle of surveillance was as follows. FSB officers usually traveled in twos or threes, in different combinations. To buy tickets, both fake passports (with slightly changed dates of birth and surnames) and original documents were used. As a rule, they did not take the same flight as Navalny, they came to where Alexei was supposed to be on the eve of his arrival, and left one day before him or one day later.
In total, since 2017, FSB officers associated with the laboratory that deals with chemical weapons have accompanied Navalny on more than 30 trips.
Later, after examining the database of air tickets and data from telephone conversations, Bellingcat found another permanent companion of Alexei — Valery Sukharev. He traveled with Navalny in Russia at least 15 times, and before and after the poisoning he constantly called up with the already well-known team of poisoners. Valery Sukharev works in the Service for Defense of Constitutional Order and Fight against Terrorism of the FSB. For more information about this organization, which has a secret department responsible for political assassinations, see the “Chemical Weapons of the FSB” section.
Apparently, there have been several attempts to poison Navalny with Novichok. Billing data showed a spike in calls on July 6, 2020. On this day, Alexei and Yulia Navalny were near Kaliningrad; FSB officers Aleksandrov and Panyaev were there at the same time. On July 6, Yulia suddenly felt unwell. She subsequently confirmed that her symptoms were similar to those of Alexei after poisoning. In addition, Navalny said that about two years earlier, he experienced similar sensations when he flew in an airplane from Moscow during one of his trips to the regions, but the symptoms quickly passed.
In August 2020, Navalny was accompanied in Siberia by Alexei Alexandrov, Ivan Osipov and Vladimir Panyaev. On August 12, when most of the FSB officers involved in the trip had already booked tickets and the route was known, active negotiations began between the participants in the operation. Makshakov called up many times with Vasiliev and Bogdanov, as well as with Aleksandrov and Osipov — the direct performers. The operation was coordinated by Oleg Tayakin, a chemical weapons specialist from the Service for Defense of Constitutional Order and Fight against Terrorism of the FSB. Judging by the billing, in the days before the poisoning, he spent the nights at NII-2 and constantly called Makshakov.
On August 13, Alexandrov, Osipov and Panyaev flew to Novosibirsk. Despite the availability of special “temporary” telephones for the operation, Alexei Alexandrov turned on his personal phone twice — first in Novosibirsk, then in Tomsk. And both times he was not far from the hotel where Navalny stayed.
On August 19, right after Alexei went to bed, Tayakin received a call from Alexei Krivoshchekov, one of the members of the poisoning team. Tayakin began to chat with someone through a messenger and at the same time talk on the phone with Makshakov. The next time Krivoshchekov called Tayakin was at 6:05 am, when Alexei, Kira and Ilya got into a taxi and went to the airport. By this time, Navalny had already been poisoned.
On August 21, when it became clear that Navalny was still alive, the group of murderers faced the first priority task: to conceal the traces of Novichok. Makshakov repeatedly contacted colleagues and other experts, including those from the Institute for Problems of Chemical and Energy Technologies in the city of Biysk, whose scientists specialize in removing traces of chemical contamination. Aleksandrov, Osipov and Panyaev returned their tickets from Tomsk to Moscow and went to Gorno-Altaysk, the nearest city to Biysk with an airport. Tayakin urgently flew there from Moscow. For the whole day, his phone was in the vicinity of the local FSB headquarters.
Navalny later released a video detailing the progress of the investigation. After its publication, the Investigative Committee opened a case for gaining access to the phone billing data of FSB officers. The documents related to this case, which came to the disposal of The Insider and Bellingcat, prove that the FSB's Internal Security Directorate admits that the phone numbers, the details of calls on which the investigators received, belong to the current FSB officers, and several Russian citizens initially received access to these numbers, including a former fitness trainer who had fake documents of an employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This refutes Putin's words that the investigation is “a legalization of the data of foreign special services” (for more details, see the “Russia’s Position” section).
In the afternoon of December 14, The Insider, Bellingcat, CNN, Der Spiegel and FBK published a joint investigation into Navalny's poisoning — with all the facts listed above. Prior to publication, at 7 am the same day, CNN correspondent Clarissa Ward came to the coordinator of the poisoning group, Oleg Tayakin; their short meeting was captured on video. At the same time, three people — Alexei Navalny, Christo Grozev and Maria Pevchikh — began calling the FSB officers involved in the poisoning operation. With the help of a standard program, the outgoing number was changed to a number that the FSB officers used as a switchboard to communicate with high-ranking officers.
Navalny introduced himself as Maxim Sergeevich Ustinov, an assistant of Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council, and said that he was preparing a report to his superiors. Most of the interlocutors refused to discuss anything over the phone, citing the insecurity of this communication channel. But one believed in the legend and spoke for almost 50 minutes.
It was Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a military chemist at the FSB Criminalistics Institute. Previously, he worked at the Ministry of Defense's Biological Safety Research Center and the Military Academy of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense. At the time of the start of the conversation, it was known that Kudryavtsev flew to Omsk on August 25 — presumably to collect Navalny's clothes. Kudryavtsev reported many details of the operation by telephone, confirming the findings of the investigators.
Kudryavtsev: The odds… were against us. That’s what I think. Had [the flight] taken a bit longer, everything… could have gone completely differently.
Navalny: So, you think that this… subject… survived because they landed the plane too quickly? Is that the main reason?
Kudryavtsev: I think so, yes. It’s the only reason. Had they taken a bit longer, everything would have ended differently.
When asked to name the reasons for the failure of the operation, Kudryavtsev said that it happened because the plane flying from Tomsk landed too early, and the ambulance doctors injected Navalny with the antidote in time: “Had he flown for a bit longer, had they not landed so urgently, everything could have gone differently. The paramedics on the runway worked really quickly.”
The hypothesis was confirmed that Kudryavtsev flew to Omsk after the poisoning to collect Navalny's clothes. In addition, it turned out that he flew there twice, and his task was to treat the clothes, removing traces of the toxic substance from them. Kudryavtsev said that the clothes were “washed, treated with solutions. <...> So that there are no traces.” According to him, the poison was applied to the inner seams of the underpants.
The clothes were handed over to Kudryavtsev by the Omsk transport police — the one that carried out the pre-investigation check in connection with the poisoning (read more about this in the “Criminal Case” section). They took Navalny's belongings from the hospital on the day of the poisoning and drew up a seizure protocol — the description of clothes given by Kudryavtsev corresponds to this protocol.
Speaking about who gave him the clothes, Kudryavtsev mentioned a certain Mikhail, the head of the local FSB anti-terrorism department. He was identified as Mikhail Evdokimov, the head of the Omsk FSB Anti-Terrorism Directorate. Navalny phoned him too; he refused to speak on an open connection, but confirmed that he worked with the transport police and gave Kudryavtsev Alexei's things.
According to Kudryavtsev, no poison was applied to the bottle (the bottle with the traces of Novichok was taken from the hotel and taken to Germany by Navalny's associates — apparently, he grabbed it after he touched the poisoned clothes).
Kudryavtsev mentioned another participant in the operation, previously unknown to Bellingcat — Vasily Kalashnikov. He traveled with Kudryavtsev to Omsk. The Insider has discovered that Kalashnikov is an expert in gas chromatography / mass spectrometry: this method reveals metabolites of nerve agents in biological samples. In the articles published by Kalashnikov on this topic, he is listed as an employee of the FSB Criminalistics Institute.
Kudryavtsev said that he personally participated in an operation related to Navalny in 2017 in Kirov. This is consistent with Bellingcat's travel records for FSB officers.
The surveillance system for Navalny revealed by Bellingcat was confirmed by Kudryavtsev's words. In response to the question whether the members of the group took the same flights as Navalny, he replied: “They normally take a different flight on purpose. Even if it’s a group of several brigades, one of them takes one flight,and the other takes a different one.” He also added that for conspiracy purposes, members of the group change their clothes.
You can listen to the full recording of the conversation here; we publish its full transcript below.
On December 21, a few hours before the recording of the call was published on Alexei Navalny's YouTube channel, FBK lawyer Lyubov Sobol came to the address of Kudryavtsev's registration in Moscow (Suzdalskaya Street, 38k2, apartment 38). He did not open the door, but his mother-in-law Galina Subbotina came out of the next apartment. As FBK later found out, two months after the poisoning of Navalny, Kudryavtsev, who lives in apartment 38, bought apartment 37 in the same house, which is worth about 7.5 million rubles. The most likely source of money for the purchase of the apartment is a reward for participating in the operation. Among other things, it turned out that Kudryavtsev receives a discount on housing and communal services as a veteran of military operations — this proves his connection with the security forces.
Apartment 38, in which Kudryavtsev lives, is registered to his mother-in-law, wife and son. But in February, Rosreestr classified his wife's data — one of the owners of the apartment is now listed as “Russian Federation”. In March, the names of the mother-in-law and the son were also changed to “Russian Federation”. And then the name of Kudryavtsev himself was classified in a similar way.
After an attempt to talk to Kudryavtsev, a criminal case was opened against Lyubov Sobol. In March, at the trial against Sobol, Kudryavtsev's wife stated that she was in the process of divorcing her husband and did not communicate with him. The mother-in-law said that he had been “on a business trip” for several months. According to them, the last time they saw Konstantin Kudryavtsev was in December.
Lyubov Sobol was sentenced to a year of probation. In October 2021, it became known that she was Put on a wanted list. In December, the suspended sentence was changed to a real one.
At the same time, in December, Navalny's team found out that data on the apartment owned by Tayakin and on the apartment and land plot owned by Bogdanov had been deleted from Rosreestr. Alexandrov, Makshakov, Vasiliev, as well as Panyaev's parents have also been classified as Kudryavtsev had been previously — their names were changed to “Russian Federation”.
All the data obtained during the investigation indicate that a group of regular FSB officers tried to poison Navalny, and orders to do so were given to them at the highest level. The operation began in 2017 — it was then that the FSB killers went on a trip with Navalny for the first time. This is most likely due to the fact that in December 2016 Alexei announced his participation in the presidential elections.
Apparently, they tried to poison him several times. The first identified attempt was made in July 2020 during a trip to Kaliningrad, the next in August 2020. Alexei managed to survive the poisoning thanks to the actions of the pilots who landed the plane in Omsk and the ambulance doctors who injected him with the antidote in time.
The classification of data about the poisoners and their relatives in the real estate register confirms the conclusions drawn. After the release of investigations about the people accompanying Navalny, nothing else was heard: they changed phone numbers and disappeared.