December 22, 2020

Smoking Underpants



Smoking Underpants

In an astonishingly brazen operation, opposition politician Alexey Navalny pulled the ultimate punk on FSB operative Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who allegedly tried to kill him.

Calling from Germany, where he is recuperating from his Novichok poisoning, and masking his phone number to look like it was routed through the KGB switchboard, Navalny introduced himself as  Maxim Sergeyevich Ustinov, an aide to Nikolai Patrushev, Russia's Secretary of the Security Council. He (Ustinov), Navalny said, had been tasked with writing up a two-page report about The Navalny Incident and what went wrong. And he just wanted to hear Kudryavtsev's perspective.

What follows is a 49-minute exercise in actorly brilliance (Navalny) and intelligence operative indiscretion (Kudryavtsev). While the recording has not been verified, the exchanges between the two certainly make it ring true, and Kudryavtsev is gradually duped by Navalny, while retaining a bit of skepticism that this sort of conversation could be had over an open line. ("Maximum conspiracy - this is of utmost importance. No one must be seen," Kudryavtsev says at one point, when asked by Navalny-Ustinov if there is any chance any of the operatives were ever made by Navalny and his team.)

It does, of course, seem strange that someone who was involved in the shadowing of Navalny over the course of several years would not have recognized Navalny's rather distinctive voice. But that could be chalked up to the early morning hour, or simply the fact that one would generally not expect the object of a failed poisoning to call one of his alleged killers on the phone.

Nonetheless, the details of the operation are discussed in sufficient detail to definitively incriminate Kudryavtsev and the FSB (the Novichok was apparently applied to Navalny's underpants, and Kudryavtsev says that the only reason he thinks the operation failed is that the flight did not last long enough and the ambulance came too quickly in Omsk).

Indeed, the call substantiates the extensive details of the Bellingcat investigation, which used cellphone data readily available on the Russian black market to meticulously document the movements of the FSB operatives following Navalny. As a result, there can be little doubt that the FSB conducted a years-long operation to surveil and ultimately attempt to murder Alexey Navalny on Russian soil using a banned nerve agent.

As noted by Bellingcat, no legal authority is currently investigating or prosecuting the attempted murder. Western governments, most notably Germany, have condemned the action, requesting a Kremlin explanation, and saying further sanctions would be on the table if none was forthcoming.

President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, in his annual marathon press conference, called the whole episode a fabrication of western intelligence, indicating that, yes, of course the FSB was following Navalny, keeping an eye on him because he was a danger to society. But no, the FSB had not poisoned Navalny, because if they were going to undertake that action, they would have succeeded.

You Might Also Like

Navalny's Near Miss
  • November 01, 2013

Navalny's Near Miss

An insider's account of the Navalny campaign for Moscow mayor.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
At the Circus

At the Circus

This wonderful novella by Alexander Kuprin tells the story of the wrestler Arbuzov and his battle against a renowned American wrestler. Rich in detail and characterization, At the Circus brims with excitement and life. You can smell the sawdust in the big top, see the vivid and colorful characters, sense the tension build as Arbuzov readies to face off against the American.
Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
The Best of Russian Life

The Best of Russian Life

We culled through 15 years of Russian Life to select readers’ and editors’ favorite stories and biographies for inclusion in a special two-volume collection. Totalling over 1100 pages, these two volumes encompass some of the best writing we have published over the last two decades, and include the most timeless stories and biographies – those that can be read again and again.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

800-639-4301
802-223-4955