Navalny Releases Recording of Call to His Alleged Poisoner

MOSCOW (AP) -
In this image taken from a video released on Dec. 21, Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny tells how he spoke with as Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a trained chemical-weapons specialist. (Navalny Instagram account via AP)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on Monday released a recording of a phone call he said he made to an alleged state security operative, who revealed some details of how the politician was supposedly poisoned and media identified as a member of a team that has reportedly trailed Navalny for years.

The man in the recording indicated that he was involved in cleaning up Navalny’s clothes “so that there wouldn’t be any traces” after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top critic fell into a coma while on a domestic flight over Siberia. During the recorded call, the man said that if the plane hadn’t made an emergency landing, “the situation would have turned out differently.”

The man was named in a news report last week as an operative from Russia’s FSB domestic security agency.

Navalny fell sick during the Aug. 20 flight in Russia and was flown to Berlin while still in a coma for treatment two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities have vehemently denied any involvement in the poisoning.

Last week, the investigative group Bellingcat released a report alleging that operatives from Russia’s FSB domestic security agency followed Navalny during his trips since 2017, had “specialized training in chemical weapons, chemistry and medicine,” and some of them were “in the vicinity” of Navalny in the timeframe “during which he was poisoned.”

The investigation, conducted by Bellingcat and Russian news outlet The Insider in cooperation with CNN and German news outlet Der Spiegel, identified the supposed FSB operatives after analyzing telephone metadata and flight information.

Navalny, who is convalescing in Germany, said the report proved beyond doubt that FSB operatives tried to kill him on Putin’s orders. On Monday, he posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday titled “I called my killer. He confessed.”

The video showed him speaking on the phone with one of the alleged operatives. Bellingcat and other media outlets identified the man Navalny said he spoke with as Konstantin Kudryavtsev, a trained chemical-weapons specialist. The investigation alleged that Kudryavtsev traveled to Omsk — the Siberian city where the plane carrying Navalny when he became ill made an emergency landing and where the comatose politician first was hospitalized — several days after Navalny was airlifted to Berlin.

Navalny said he phoned the alleged FSB operative hours before the Bellingcat report was released. Navalny introduced himself as an aide to Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and said he urgently needed to debrief the man on what had happened in another Siberian city, Tomsk, where the politician believes he was poisoned.

The conversation lasted 45 minutes, Navalny said. Bellingcat and The Insider published the full recording and transcripts of it.

The man on the other end of the call indicated that he was involved in the “processing” of Navalny’s clothes so “there wouldn’t be any traces.” The clothes Navalny was wearing when he was hospitalized in a coma have not been returned to him.

Navalny, who is an anti-corruption investigator as well as a politician, is one of Kremlin’s fiercest critics. His Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level.

The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running. He set up a network of campaign offices across Russia and has since been putting forward opposition candidates in regional elections, increasingly putting pressure on members of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.