Hristo Grozev: FSB is a crumbling facade
International Clandestine Operations: A Conversation with Christo Grozev
Experts do not doubt the involvement of the FSB and the Kremlin in the poisoning of Alexei Navalny
In light of the investigation into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and a phone call from the latter to one of the FSB officers, the Atlantic Council of Washington held a round table on Tuesday, December 22, at which one of the main authors of this investigation, a Bulgarian journalist for the independent Internet publication, spoke Bellingcat Hristo Grozev (Christo Grozev).
Earlier, the independent online publication Bellingcat, with the participation of The Insider, CNN, Der Spiegel and the Alexei Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation, released an investigation alleging that a group of FSB officers had been tracking the Russian opposition leader and was involved in his poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok “. Bellingcat relied heavily on data from air passengers and mobile phone billing of alleged poisoners in its investigation, some of which is publicly available, and some was acquired on the Russian black market for data trading..
After Bellingcat identified the group of FSB officers involved in the operation against Alexei Navalny, the Russian oppositionist called one of the members of this group, Konstantin Kudryavtsev, posing as Assistant Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev and using a special program to hide his number and display one of the FSB’s numbers. From a 45-minute conversation with Kudryavtsev, it actually became clear that the FSB was really behind the assassination attempt on Navalny, and that the poison was used to treat the opposition’s underwear, which the participants in the operation tried to clear of Novichok’s traces while the oppositionist was in the Omsk hospital. According to Kudryavtsev, the operation was well planned, and the Russian oppositionist survived due to coincidence..
The phone call between Navalny and one of the FSB officers was made public after Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any involvement of special services in the poisoning during his annual press conference and noted that “if they wanted to poison Navalny, this case would have been brought to an end.” At the same time, the head of Russia did not deny that the FSB was conducting surveillance on the Russian opposition, and added that the American special services were behind the Bellingcat investigation itself. Alexei Navalny’s call to an FSB officer is a “fake” and is also backed by the US intelligence services, Russian authorities later said..
Experts who participated in the Atlantic Council Roundtable have no doubt that Bellingcat’s investigations and Navalny’s call are genuine. Experts are also confident that the Russian president was aware of the FSB operation, and the assertions of the Russian authorities that the CIA could be behind the Bellingcat investigation and Navalny’s call are untrue..
Hristo Grozev noted during the discussion of the Atlantic Council that as a result of the investigation, the publication managed not only to determine that the FSB group was behind the poisoning, but also that there is a department in the organization that specializes in poisoning: “I have no doubts about the fact that since Navalny was on this list and with such attention, there must have been other representatives of the opposition or simply troublemakers from the Kremlin’s point of view, who may have also been persecuted. “.
According to the Bellingcat journalist who was present when Alexei Navalny called Konstantin Kudryavtsev, at first the Russian oppositionist, when calling the FSB officers identified as a result of the investigation, introduced himself by his real name, but they immediately hung up. That is why he decided to change his tactics and call himself an FSB officer. At the same time, Hristo Grozev himself believed that “this prank call will not work under any circumstances.” The first FSB officer whom Navalny called in his “new role” actually hung up immediately after recognizing the voice of the Russian oppositionist.
The fact that Konstantin Kudryavtsev, during a conversation with Navalny, actually admitted not only that the FSB was behind the poisoning, but also gave out the details of this poisoning, seriously hit both the image of the country’s power structures and the President of the Russian Federation. “Excellent governance of the FSB is the cornerstone of Putin’s reputation, including among his mainstream electorate,” the journalist notes. “But what I see in the last twenty-four hours, especially after the publication of [Navalny’s] phone call, is that Russia now perceives the FSB as a joke, including Putin’s mainstream electorate.”.
“The FSB is a crumbling facade,” adds Hristo Grozev.
Answering a question from the Russian Service of the Voice of America about the sources of the investigation, the Bellingcat journalist noted that he did not doubt the veracity of the data he received, but was concerned about the safety of those through whom he received the data..
“I am not concerned about the accuracy of the data because we have methods to ensure that the data we receive is not compromised. We also do not get all the data on the market – many of them are already pre-analyzed and downloaded from offline databases. These databases today cannot be changed by either the FSB or other special services. And no matter what information we receive from new sources, we always make sure that there is a kind of blockchain between this and the rest of the data, before we really believe in reliability. Thus, everything must be supported and confirmed by different datasets, and we never use the same source for more than one dataset, says Hristo Grozev. “But yes, we are concerned about the safety of our sources and are definitely monitoring what happens to them. Fortunately, we can still say that for them, the matter was limited to the termination of work “.
“I think that the FSB should be more concerned about what is happening inside the FSB in terms of complete incompetence, than to prosecute petty corruption, which is actually encouraged by the FSB itself, because they take their share of the information trading business,” he added..
Atlantic Council expert and former CIA officer John Cypher (John Sipher) stressed during the discussion that it was definitely clear from Navalny’s phone call that the FSB’s intention was to kill Alexei Navalny and hide the traces of this crime: “Some people said that maybe the goal was to intimidate or force him to leave the country. But we are clearly dealing with the intent to kill, as well as the intent to hide our involvement. “.
“This is a complex attack carried out by the Russian special services for a long time,” he adds. “And this is what Putin is clearly behind.”.
The Bellingcat investigation itself is called extraordinary by the former CIA officer and notes that the publication was one step ahead of the Western intelligence services: “I don’t think Western intelligence services were completely ignorant, but […] what Bellingcat did was impressive.”.
Moscow correspondent for the American edition of The New Yorker Joshua Jaffa (Joshua Yaffa) believes that despite the public outcry, the current investigation will not lead to a change in the political situation in the country, including due to a certain political apathy “even among opposition-minded or liberal-minded Russians who are not particularly enthusiastic about Putin “.
“The poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the downing of MH-17 in 2014, now the poisoning of Navalny — these moments have caused a serious increase in tension and created a real sense of crisis between Russia and the West, led to sanctions and other measures, but they did not lead to an internal political crisis in the Kremlin. And I suppose this trend will continue now, ”he says. Nevertheless, for the Kremlin today, there are no “good options” in the situation around Alexei Navalny, and even more so his possible return to Russia, adds Joshua Jaffa. The potential arrest of a Russian oppositionist upon his return to Moscow will cause a wide public and international resonance, and an unhindered return to Russia, in turn, could lead to the creation of Navalny’s “heroic image”.
Expert on Russian special services Irina Borogan believes that it will be difficult for Alexei Navalny to return to Russia: “I do not believe that they will allow him to return to the country.”.
If the Soviet authorities could deprive a person of citizenship, then the Russian authorities do not have such an opportunity today, “and they cannot poison him the second time,” the expert also noted during the discussion of the “Atlantic Council”. Therefore, the Kremlin will look for options on how to prevent the return of Alexei Navalny to Russia, Irina Borogan is sure..
Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics