Russia spies who tailed Navalny tied to other critic’s poisoning

Henry Meyer

A clandestine unit from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, accused of poisoning opposition leader Alexey Navalny also tailed activist Vladimir Kara-Murza before he twice suffered near-fatal illnesses, according to an investigation by the Bellingcat group.

In December, the investigative website reported that the FSB team specializing in poisons had shadowed Navalny since January 2017, citing leaked phone and travel data. The new investigation in collaboration with The Insider and Der Spiegel publications alleged Thursday that the same agents systematically followed Kara-Murza before he suddenly fell ill in May 2015 and February 2017 in Russia, citing evidence from travel records.

In this Friday, Jan. 29, 2016 file photo, Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, Russian opposition activist poses for a photo in Moscow, Russia.

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The FSB’s press service didn’t respond to phone calls requesting comment.

Kara-Murza was the chief coordinator for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia organization at the time he fell ill and an ally of the assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. He suffered kidney failure in Moscow in 2015 and went into a coma before slowly making a recovery after being flown to the U.S. Two years later he suffered another severe organ failure in Moscow after a second acute poisoning.

Navalny survived an attack in August using the banned nerve-agent Novichok during a campaign trip to Siberia that he and Western governments blamed on Putin and the FSB. The Kremlin denies involvement.

In this image made from video provided by the Babuskinsky District Court, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021.

Navalny recovered after treatment in Germany and later posed as an aide to the Russian Security Council secretary in a phone call with one alleged member of the poisons team, who appeared to admit details of the plot to kill him.

The FSB called the recording a “fake” in a December statement that said Bellingcat’s investigation into the alleged poison team “would not have been possible without the organizational and technical support of foreign special services.” The Kremlin has also dismissed Bellingcat’s reports in the past.

Police detained Navalny when he returned to Moscow from Germany in January, and a court sentenced him to 2 years 8 months in prison this month for breaching probation from a 2014 fraud conviction while he was recovering.