Russian media blackout on expose of 'hit squad who targeted Navalny'

Russian state media blackout on expose of ‘FSB hit squad who targeted Alexei Navalny’ – but politician close to Putin admits it’s ‘brilliant investigative work’

  • FSB agency allegedly began tracking Mr Navalny after president announcement
  • Undercover teams included chemical weapons experts and secret agents
  • There was media blackout over the bombshell claims in Moscow on Tuesday
  • But Putin’s ‘goddaughter’ Kseniya Sobchak called it ‘absolutely brilliant work’ 

There was a state media blackout in Russia today after a bombshell expose unmasked three members of an FSB hit squad alleged to have poisoned Alexei Navanly.

But leading politician Kseniya Sobchak – dubbed Putin’s goddaughter for her close family ties to the president – hailed the revelations as ‘absolutely brilliant investigative work’.  

The report claimed that the FSB – successor to the KGB – trailed the outspoken Putin critic Navanly for three years before poisoning him with novichok in August. 

Its operatives included chemical weapons experts, doctors and secret agents with expertise in special operations, according to the investigative website Bellingcat. 

Pictured: Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia posing for a photo while he is in hospital in Berlin 

Kseniya Sobchak  with Vladimir Putin and her mother Liudmila Narusova. Putin was a close ally of Sobchack’s father, the former mayor of St Petersburg, who taught Putin at university and later launched his political career

Putin’s ‘goddaughter’ Ksenia Sobchak with her husband, actor and director Konstantin Bogomolov, at the GQ Men of the Year 2020 Awards at Gorky Moscow Art Theatre

Agents were said to have kept Mr Navalny under surveillance on at least 37 trips before he was eventually poisoned on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August. 

Who is Putin’s goddaughter Kseniya Sobchak

Sobchak, 38, is the daughter of Putin’s mentor Anatoly Sobchak, former mayor of St. Petersburg.

Her mother Lyudmila Narusova is a senator.

Sobchack’s father was Putin’s law professor at university and later helped launch Putin’s political career in 1991 while he was mayor of St Peterburg.

Putin repaid the favour years later by helping Anatoly flee corruption charges.

The Moscow News has previously reported: ‘Putin’s reported affection for the Sobchak family is widely believed to give Ksenia Sobchak a protected status, which may also explain her boldness.’

Sobchak is a news anchor on the independent channel ‘Rain’ and was a candidate for the 2018 Russian presidential election. 

Sobchak is one of the top 10 highest paid celebrities in Russia, according to Forbes, raking in £1.6million a year in 2017. 

They would take parallel flights or trains, travelling in twos or threes, mixing up teams to avoid being spotted and often using aliases, the report claimed.

The chain of command leads to the top of the FSB and ultimately to Mr Putin.

Sobchak, 38, a TV star and ex-presidential election candidate, posted: ‘I am not a fan of Alexei, but this is an absolutely brilliant investigative work.’

She said it ‘made no difference’ whether Western intelligence were behind the stunning revelations or not.

Sobchak forecast ‘complete silence about the investigation of Navalny on the federal (television) channels’.

And major TV channels last night or early today did not cover the allegation of a Kremlin-inspired chemical against attack on a prominent anti-Putin politician.

Independent and opposition media outlets named the alleged FSB agents invoiced in the attack.

One media source said: ‘They are waiting for orders on how to report this.’

Observers noted the silence of usual Kremlin propagandists over the Bellingcat claims.

‘It looks like the propaganda (department) just doesn’t know what to say,’ said liberal news outlet Republic.

Pro-Putin commentators are ‘so crushed by how convincing the material ” is that they cannot properly respond.

Sobchak reposted another comment labelling ‘murderers’ those seeking to poison Mr Navalny. They were named by the Bellingcat dossier.

Mr Navalny, 44, leader of the opposition Progress Party, fell ill after he was 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 they live. I know where they work. I know their real names. I know their fake names. I have their photos.’

Navalny’s colleague Maria Pevchikh leaving Moscow on her way to Siberia on the fateful trip – where she was allegedly tailed by the FSB – in an image leaked to Russian media 

One of the senior members of the accused poisoning squad Oleg Tayakin, 40, at his home. He served at an FSB-affiliated spetsnaz base in the southern Russian town of Yessentuki

Moments from disaster: Alexei Navalny in an airport bus in Siberia on August 20, shortly before boarding the flight on which he fell unconscious following a suspected Novichok poisoning

Yulia Navalnaya (pictured visiting her husband in hospital) reported symptoms on a visit to Kaliningrad in July which Alexei Navalny says were similar to how he felt on the flight 

August 12: Three FSB ‘plotters’ buy plane tickets to Siberia after Navalny’s entourage books a flight there

August 13: The alleged FSB team flies to Novosibirsk a day before Navalny arrives. Maria Pevchikh also flies to Siberia and is tailed as she leaves Moscow

August 17: Navalny travels on to Tomsk, pursued by the alleged FSB operatives. When he books a flight back to Moscow, the ‘plotters’ do the same only minutes later

August 19: Navalny has a drink at a hotel bar in Tomsk, leaving his room empty. There is a ‘surge’ in communication among members of the alleged FSB unit

August 20: Navalny boards the flight in Tomsk and becomes critically ill on board, forcing an emergency landing 

August 22: The unconscious Navalny is airlifted to Berlin. A German military lab later finds evidence of Novichok 

The anti-corruption activist and father-of-two said he believed Mr Putin ordered the operation after he announced he would run for the Russian presidency, adding: ‘We now have the villain, the reason, murderers and the murder weapon.’

The Kremlin has denied Mr Putin’s involvement and suggested Mr Navalny is working with the CIA in the US.

Bellingcat named three FSB officers who trailed the lawyer as he travelled from Moscow to Siberia in August, and a further five agents said to have been involved in the operation.

They included Alexey Alexandrov, 39, a military doctor; Ivan Osipov, also a medical doctor by training; and Vladimir Panyaev, who posed as a lamp salesman and lived in Mr Navalny’s building until the poisoning, when his registered address suddenly changed to that of the FSB headquarters.

Panyaev, 40, actually works in the FSB’s Criminalistics Institute, also known as its poisons factory, Bellingcat reported.

The website, which worked with CNN in the US, Der Spiegel in Germany and The Insider in Russia, said it used telecoms records and travel data, including flight manifests, to track the agents’ movements. 

The same team may have made an earlier assassination bid in July, when Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia fell ill on a trip 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 the bar did not have the ingredients and accepted a negroni instead.

The nondescript building near Moscow where a secretive FSB unit is said to operate, employing specialists with backgrounds in chemical and biological warfare 

The alleged head of an FSB sub-unit works for a senior official who reports to FSB director Alexander Bogdanov (pictured), who in turn reports to Putin 

Navalny’s allies pointed the finger at his arch-nemesis Vladimir Putin (pictured) but the Kremlin has denied any involvement in the opposition leader’s illness 

FSB agents tailed Navalny and his aide Maria Pevchikh (pictured) on their trip to Siberia, it is claimed 

Navalny being taken to an ambulance in Omsk (left) after falling ill on a plane following a trip to an airport cafe (right) in Siberia 

Navalny arrives in Berlin where he was airlifted for treatment following the alleged FSB attempt on his life in Russia last August 

Navalny poses with his wife Yulia and their children at the German hospital where he was being treated after being poisoned with Novichok 

Navalny was treated at the Charite hospital in Berlin (pictured) where he was visited by German chancellor Angela Merkel  

He said the drink was ‘disgusting’ and he took only a few sips before going to bed. Experts have said the novichok could also have been on laundry he did at the hotel, or injected into his toiletries.

Mr Navalny boarded the plane to Moscow the next day but collapsed on board and was taken for hospital treatment in Omsk after an emergency landing.

Bellingcat claimed some of the hit squad followed him to Omsk, and there have been reports of a second attempt on his life there.

He was then flown to Germany, where doctors confirmed he was poisoned with novichok and nursed him back to health.  

Russia ‘got ahead’ of UK  

China and Russia ‘got ahead’ of Britain in technology and military capabilities while the West was busy ‘nation-building’ in the Gulf wars, a senior military officer said yesterday.

General Sir Patrick Sanders, the head of the Ministry of Defence’s Strategic Command, said the two superpowers had sprinted ahead in the race for technological dominance while the West was preoccupied in Iraq. 

Speaking at a debate on cyber-security, he said Russia and China had focused on developing military capabilities in space and missiles that travel at hypersonic speed, which left Britain trailing. 

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