Vladimir Putin critic Alexei Navalny today claimed he had tricked an FSB agent into admitting Russian assassins tried to kill him using poisoned underpants.
As part of his astonishing claim, the Russian opposition leader - who cheated death earlier this year - said he had impersonated a secret service official to dupe Konstantin Kudryavtsev.
In a blog post the Kremlin critic said he phoned a man named Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who he said was a chemical weapons expert with the FSB domestic intelligence agency.
'I called my killer. He confessed everything,' Navalny said on Twitter.
Navalny said he disguised his phone number and presented himself as an aide to Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, explaining he needed information for an official report on the attempted poisoning.
Believing he was giving an important 'debrief' to one of his seniors, Kudryavtsev is said to have revealed Novichok nerve agent was secretly applied to Navalny's underwear - with the 'crotch area' specifically targeted - by an FSB hit squad in Siberia, according to Bellingcat.
A Russian FSB agent has been tricked into allegedly admitting he poisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny by unwittingly telling Mr Navalny himself on a phone call, according to reports https://t.co/GaWWurbYPC— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 21, 2020
The poison could have been administered while Navalny was out of his Tomsk hotel room or while his clothes were in a hotel laundry service, it is feared.
Kudryavtsev, 41, is accused of belonging to a secret FSB squad which allegedly targeted Navalny, a longstanding critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on August 20.
Navalny, who is recuperating at a secret location in Germany, decided to confront two of the 'plotters' by using the fake persona of Maxim Ustinov, a fictional aide in Russia's national security council.
One of the men realised he was speaking to Navalny and hung up, but Kudryavtsev was fooled by the disguise, it is claimed.
Posing as 'Maxim', Navalny said his boss was seeking an 'urgent report' into 'what went wrong with Navalny' from the FSB team.
In a 49-minute call, Kudryavtsev apparently said that the 'plotters' had applied the poison to Navalny's underpants, specifically 'where the groin is'.
In the audio recording, the voice on the other end of the line initially sounds hesitant and cautious but eventually tells the story and explains why Navalny managed to survive the poison attack.
'On which piece of cloth was your focus on? Which garment had the highest risk factor?,' Navalny asked.
'The underpants,' Kudryavtsev replied, according to a Bellingcat transcript.
During that call the person believed to be Kudryavtsev said that his unit had not expected the pilot to make an emergency landing in Omsk.
The man on the other end replied 'it would have all gone differently' if the plane had not made the emergency landing and 'if [it had] not [been] for the prompt work of the ambulance medics on the runway'.
He said that if the flight had been allowed to continue, Navalny would not have survived.
In the recorded comments, the agent said an attacker had placed the poison along the inner seams of a pair of Navalny's underwear.
He detailed how he and another FSB agent had flown to Omsk after the poisoning and removed any trace of the poison.
However, Kudryavtsev never explained his exact role in the operation.
The opposition leader published an audio recording and a transcript of the phone call and released a video of him conducting the conversation.
He said that voice analysis 'would demonstrate that it is indeed' Kudryavtsev speaking.
The Kremlin has repeatedly rejected any suggestion that Russia tried to kill Navalny. The FSB did not immediately comment.
In the video, Navalny can be heard asking a voice on the phone. 'Why did nothing work out?'
'Well, I've asked myself this question more than once,' the voice responds.
Kudryavtsev also described concerted efforts by the alleged FSB squad to remove traces of Novichok from Navalny's clothes, some of which were left behind at a hospital.
However, he offered the theory that the German military lab which discovered evidence of Novichok might have found traces of the suspect in his blood.
Kudryavtsev also suggested that Navalny only survived because the plane he was travelling on made an emergency landing after he fell ill.
'If it had been a little longer, I think the situation could have gone differently,' he is said to have told 'Maxim'.
The alleged FSB man went on to explain: 'The flight is about three hours, this is a long flight…
'If you don't land the plane the effect would've been different and the result would've been different.'
Kudryavtsev also admitted going to Omsk in the days after the poisoning, it is claimed. He was apparently tasked to retrieve the Navalny clothes from doctors and police in Omsk.
'When we arrived, they gave them to us, the local Omsk guys brought [them] with the transport police,' he said.
Navalny - posing as 'Maxim'- asked: 'So there won't be any surprises with the clothes….?'
The agent replied. 'That's why we went there several times.'
He suggested that he was handed the clothes by another FSB man Mikhail Evdokimov, head of the local FSB counter-terrorism department.
Bellingcat says the conversation is evidence that the 'FSB attempted to assassinate, and not simply incapacitate or intimidate, Navalny', and says the call confirms details of its investigation.
'The main, overarching admission made during the lengthy conversation was that FSB was indeed behind the poisoning operation against Alexei Navalny in Tomsk,' the new report says.
'While Kudryavtsev says he was not part of the actual poisoning operation in Tomsk, he admits to being involved in at least one previous operation in 2017, as well as in the clean-up operation after Navalny's hospitalization in Omsk.'
Several other alleged FSB plotters were identified last week, but most of them refused to comment when contacted by Navalny or investigative journalists.
Kudryavtsev is said to have hinted at previous attempts to kill Navalny, which the Putin critic now suspects took place.
However, he says he was not involved in an incident in Kaliningrad weeks before the Siberia poisoning where Navalny believes he and his wife might have been targeted.
The investigations published last week alleged that FSB agents had been tailing Navalny for more than three years before he fell ill in August.
After collapsing on the plane in Siberia, Navalny was taken to hospital in Omsk before being airlifted to Berlin when Germany agreed to take him in.
Navalny later said that his clothes were taken away from him before he left Russia, which refused to open a full investigation into the case.
Germany said a military lab had found traces of Novichok, the Soviet-era nerve agent previously used to target Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018.
On Monday Navalny's associate Lyubov Sobol went to a building on the outskirts of Moscow where the Bellingcat report said Kudryavtsev lives.
According to video she livestreamed on her Twitter account, police surrounded her car and later detained her.
Journalists also arrived at the scene and rang the doorbell to Kudryavtsev's reported apartment, but no one came to the door.
Bellingcat as well as Der Spiegel and Russian website The Insider were given access to Navalny's account and also published reports on Monday.
'I've been covering the FSB for years and never thought that they were great professionals. But Navalny's prank comes as shock even for me,' Russian journalist Irina Borogan wrote on Twitter.
Moscow denies involvement in the Navalny case, with Putin darkly joking last week that 'if someone had wanted to poison him they would have finished him off'.
Putin suggested that Navalny was backed by US intelligence, an allegation Navalny denies. It was therefore right, said Putin, that Russian agents kept an eye on him.
'But that absolutely does not mean he needs to be poisoned,' said Putin. 'Who needs him?'
Putin has refused to pronounce Navalny's name in public, instead referring to him as 'the patient in Berlin', among other things, when asked directly about the opposition leader.
Navalny has said that Putin was behind his poisoning and that he will return to Russia once he has made a full recovery in Germany.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.