A hit squad employed by Russia's Federal Security Service shadowed Alexei Navalny on numerous trips before poisoning the opposition activist with Russian-made nerve agent Novichok in August, according to a joint investigation by CNN and Bellingcat. This week's reports, based on the agents' mobile phone data and other travel information, also claim FSB agents followed Navalny to Omsk, where he received treatment, lending credence to reports that Navalny may have been poisoned twice. But that's all codswallop, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "Who needs to poison him," he said during his annual end-of-year press conference on Thursday, per the Guardian. If Russian agents had wanted to poison Navalny, "then they probably would have finished the job." He then went on to describe Bellingcat as a cover for US intelligence agencies.
"That's the State Department and the US security services, they are the real authors," Putin said, per CNN, claiming Navalny is "enjoying the support of the US special services." "What, we don't know that they are tracking location? Our special services know this perfectly well," he added. He then suggested his decision to allow Navalny to be flown to Germany for treatment was proof of his innocence. CNN and Bellingcat report that FSB agents had been tracking Navalny since 2017, soon after he'd announced plans to run against Putin, and followed him to more than 30 destinations. Bellingcat also describes a possible poisoning attempt in July. Navalny's wife, Yulia, fell ill after traveling with Navalny to Kaliningrad for a romantic getaway. She told the outlet that she stumbled back to her hotel and recovered by the next morning. But "I felt sicker than I had ever felt in my life." (Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)