Did Alexei Navalny really trick a Russian Federal Security Service agent into admitting spies poisoned his underwear with Novichok? The astonishing claim launched a hundred memes over a plot-twist decidedly more Maxwell Smart than James Bond.
Navalny, Russia’s opposition leader, fell ill in mid-2020 and lay comatose for weeks in a German hospital. European laboratory tests linked his condition to a type of Novichok used in the 2018 poisoning of Russian-British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
Russia denies any involvement in the deaths or a Novichok weapons program, blaming anti-Russian hysteria and a “sanctions itch”.
Navalny responded in 2020 by releasing a YouTube video and a surreal English translation of an early-morning call with a man described as a Russian intelligence agent. During the 45-minute conversation, Navalny purportedly drilled FSB officer Konstantin Kurdryavtsev about the exact placement of the Novichok during the assassination attempt.
N: Wait, this is important. Who gave you the order to process the codpiece of the underpants?
K: We figured this on our own. They told us to work on the inner side of the underpants.
N: I am writing it down. The inner side. Ok … the gray-colored underwear, do you remember?
K: Blue. But I am not sure.
Twitter’s ridicule was swift. ‘FSB: Expectation vs. Reality,” this Russian Tweet says:
Despite the potty humor, there are deadly ties linking Russia to the nerve agent. Banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, Novichok is believed to be more potent than VX gas, which was developed for military use in chemical warfare.
SPYSCAPE examined the six deadly links between Russia and Novichok:
1. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s poisoning (August 2020)
Putin’s fiercest critic was hospitalized in Siberia, then airlifted to Berlin where he remained in an induced coma for weeks. In September 2020, the German government confirmed Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok chemical agent in an attack they described as “shocking”.
2. Sergei and Yulia Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, England (March 2018)
Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent working for British intelligence, was poisoned in Salisbury, England along with his daughter, Yulia. The two men implicated in the attempted assassination admit they were in Salisbury at the same time in March 2020, but just to visit the cathedral. "It's famous for its 123-meter spire," Rusian Boshirov told RT television. Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, both suspected Russian military intelligence officers, flew in from Moscow for the two-day trip.
3. Dawn Sturgess poisoning in Amesbury, England (June 2018)
Dawn Sturgess, a homeless woman, died after reportedly spraying her wrists with a fake Nina Ricci perfume bottle laced with Novichok. Sturgess’ boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, said he found the perfume in a public place but struggled to recall the detail. Authorities believe the bottle was left behind by the Russian agents suspected in the Skripal poisonings several months earlier in nearby Salisbury.
4. Banker Ivan Kivelidi and Zara Ismailova poisonings in Moscow (August 1995)
Vladimir Uglev, the Russian scientist who developed nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s under the Foliant program, claims Novichok killed Russian banker Ivan Kivelidi, 46, and his assistant Zara Ismailova, 35, in 1995. At the time of their deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported Kiveldi’s murder as a “particularly sinister” poisoning, possibly with heavy metal salts or cadmium, and said police found a high level of radioactivity coming from a telephone receiver used by both victims.
5. Russian scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov is the first known Novichok victim (c 1992)
The first person believed to have been killed by Novichok was Soviet scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov in an accidental death in 1987. “Circles appeared before my eyes, red and orange. A ringing in my ears, I caught my breath. And a sense of fear, like something was about to happen,” Zheleznyakov told a Russian newspaper. “I sat down on a chair and told the guys: ‘It’s got me.’” Less than five years later he died of his injuries.
6. Russian scientist Vil S. Mirzayanov blew the whistle on Novichok tests (1982)
Russian scientist Vil S. Mirzayanov, who worked at the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, helped develop Novichok in the 1970s. Mirzayanov was briefly imprisoned for telling the Moscow News that Russia was testing chemical weapons while also signing international agreements banning them. Mirzayanov later moved to the US and published his book State Secrets.