Russian officers tailed Kremlin critic Navalny for years, joint report says

Mr Alexei Navalny collapsed on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (AFP) - Chemical weapons experts from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) tailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny for several years, including on the day of his poisoning, according to a joint media investigation.

Mr Navalny, 44, was hospitalised in the Russian city of Omsk after he collapsed on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August and then transported by medical aircraft to Berlin.

Western experts in the German capital concluded that he was poisoned with the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent - a claim that Russian officials have repeatedly denied.

The investigative website Bellingcat - together with the US network CNN, Russia's The Insider and Germany's Der Spiegel - published Monday (Dec 14) a joint report revealing the names and photos of men who they say specialise in nerve agents and toxins, such as Novichok.

These men had been shadowing Mr Navalny on a regular basis since 2017, Bellingcat concluded based on "volumes of data", including phone logs and travel records.

"These operatives were in the vicinity of the opposition activist in the days and hours of the time-range during which he was poisoned with a military-grade chemical weapon," Bellingcat said after identifying 37 trips when Mr Navalny was followed by one or more of these agents since 2017.

"Given this implausible series of coincidences, the burden of proof for an innocent explanation appears to rest purely with the Russian state," Bellingcat added without specifying whether they reached out to the FSB or the Kremlin for comment.

According to CNN, the Kremlin refused to comment and the FSB did not reply to their request.

The article does not establish any direct contact between Mr Navalny and the named agents.

"I know who wanted to kill me. I know where they live. I know where they work. I know their real names. I know their fake names. I have their photos," Mr Navalny said on Monday in a video on his blog where he describes details of the investigation.

In recent years Bellingcat has several times identified agents of the Russian security services through data collected online, but these allegations were every time denied by Moscow.

The website notably revealed the names of Russian military intelligence agents who according to Bellingcat were responsible for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal with Novichok in the UK.

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