Identity of suspected Russian assassin involved in poisoning a Putin critic may have been identified in new report

  • Bellingcat, CNN, Der Spiegel, and The Insider released a comprehensive investigation into the August assassination attempt on prominent critic Alexei Navalny.
  • In the course of the investigation, analysts tracked call metadata, looked at flight records, and scanned offline Russian databases to identify 15 individuals who they allege work within a hidden sub-unit of the Federal Security Service Criminalistics Institute. 
  • As part of the investigation, CNN international correspondent Clarissa Ward traveled to Russia and knocked on the door of Oleg Tayakin, who according to the report is a senior officer in the FSB's secret chemical weapons unit.
  • In a video of the encounter, Tayakin can be seen locking his door and declining to answer questions. Ward, for her part, has received praise online for her adversarial, investigative journalism chops.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Monday, CNN and a host of other outlets dropped a bombshell investigation into the suspected poisoning and attempted assassination of prominent Putin critic Alexei Navalny. 

In partnership with investigative outfit Bellingcat, Der Spiegel, and The Insider, the news organizations located and tracked down a web of alleged chemical weapon experts in Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), who according to the report were responsible for poisoning Navalny. 

In the course of the investigation, analysts tracked call metadata, looked at flight records, and scanned offline Russian databases to identify 15 individuals who they allege in their reporting work within a hidden sub-unit of the FSB Criminalistics Institute. 

The investigative journalists also identified eight officers who they say were involved in tailing Navalny ever since his bid to run for president in 2017, reporting that FSB officers followed him on at least 30 flights in the last three years and knew his every move.

On August 20, Navalny collapsed while on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk, en route to Moscow. The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where Navalny was hospitalized. Two days later, Navalny was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin, and doctors and chemical weapons experts ruled that he was poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor, a nerve agent within the Novichok family. 

The investigation also determined that Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was also targeted in a poisoning weeks earlier, which she recovered from. 

For CNN's investigation, Ward traveled to Russia to investigate the hidden FSB unit and interview Alexei Navalny. Ultimately, in what fellow journalists are praising as an extremely brave segment, Ward and her CNN team travel to the home of Oleg Tayakin, who the report alleges is a senior officer who was involved in the assassination attempt.

"We're here now at the home of one of the FSB team, and we are going to see if he has anything to say to us," Ward says, entering his apartment complex and heading to his apartment door.

Tayakin, noticing the cameras, immediately starts closing his door, as Ward asks in Russian if she can ask a few questions. Ward switches to English and repeats her request for comment before switching between Russian and English, eventually asking, "Was it your team who poisoned Navalny?"

 

Tayakin quickly closes and locks his door. After a brief silence and once more request for comment, Ward said, "he doesn't seem to want to talk to us."

In light of the investigation and Tayakin's high profile association with the Kremlin, many lauded Ward's bravery for physically traveling to Tayakin's apartment and bringing up the investigation to his face. In the course of the segment, Ward also reports from directly outside a secret FSB chemical weapons research complex, the SC Signal Institute, and retraces Navalny's steps in the hotel where he was likely poisoned.

In a CNN interview, Ward also shares the details of the report with Navalny, who is shocked. He says it is "terrifying" and tells Ward, "These people, in the Kremlin, they are ready to kill."

Read the Bellingcat report here »

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