CNN chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward worked closely with Alexey Navalny and his team to investigate the people behind the poisoning.
She spoke to CNN’s Ana Cabrera about the investigation and the mistakes made by the Russian intelligence team.
Q: Why does he pose such a threat to Russian President Vladimir Putin that he wants him either in prison or dead?
A: A lot of people have been really confused, as to why President Putin has gone to such lengths to prevent Navalny from doing his work. The easy answer, I think, is that he has exposed the rampant corruption in Russia and he has mobilized a huge amount of support online, particularly with young people.
And there’s a sense that President Putin doesn’t have any tolerance for any real political opponents. You might remember that Boris Nemtsov was assassinated just a few hundred meters away from the Kremlin some years ago.
It’s a dangerous business getting involved with opposition in any way, shape or form in Russia. And Alexey Navalny is the single most galvanizing force that the opposition has had in many years. So, I think for those reasons, the Kremlin has done everything within its means to try to stop him.
Q: You worked closely with Navalny and his team as you investigated the assassination attempt against him. What was the most surprising thing you uncovered?
A: I think the most surprising thing, honestly, was to see how Russian Security Services Forces (the FSB) were in many ways very sloppy in their tradecraft.
The extraordinary moment of this documentary is when Navalny actually calls one of his would-be assassins on an open line posing as a senior aide to the National Security Council. And this man, who he speaks to him, actually ends up spilling the beans, believing Navalny, his claim to be the senior administration official, and telling the details of how the poisoning was done — the sprinkling of the poison in his underwear. And it’s this moment where your jaw drops because you realize sometimes there’s an aura of invincibility around Putin’s Russia and this sort of machiavellian slick image that he has cultivated. But we found time and again multiple instances where they were doing things other security services would be shocked at.
To give you one more example, one of the would-be assassins actually made a call — opened his cell phone the night that Navalny was poisoned from a hotel just a few blocks away from where Navalny was. And this is what made it possible for Bellingcat and the Navalny team with us and some others to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
Tune in tonight at 9 p.m. ET to watch the CNN Film “Navalny” on CNN.