I don’t recall reading anything like Paul Roderick Gregory’s Hill column — “The Kremlin, FSB, and the ‘Berlin patient’s’ underpants” — and related news stories. The Coen Brothers could turn it to good use in a films like Burn After Reading. Gregory tells how Vladimir Putin’s would-be assassination victim Aleksei Navalny extracted an account of the operation from the failed FSB assassin Konstantin Kudryavtsev himself. In a four-hour December 17 press conference, Putin referred to Navalny only as the “Berlin patient.” Gregory’s account draws on this reference to Kudryavtsev:
[T]he “Berlin patient” waked purported assassination-team member Konstantin Kudryavtsev (“Konstantin”) with a 7 a.m. telephone call using a fake FSB caller-ID. Navalny, playing a harried assistant, informed Konstantin ominously that the director of the National Security Council that manages the FSB, Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev, was demanding a report on why the operation failed. Navalny’s subtle message to Konstantin: Heads are going to roll… Here is your chance to protect yourself; stop worrying that the call is not on a secure line.
By cajoling, pleading, and calling for understanding, Navalny kept his would-be assassin on the line for 49 minutes as Konstantin loosened up on what “went wrong” with the operation: Navalny’s plane landed too soon; just a little longer (chut’ dol’she) and he would have been dead. The paramedics were not clued in. They injected him with a life-saving antidote. The Novichek dose was correctly calculated, but there are “many nuances” in such an operation.
Konstantin’s most telling revelation: The squad laced the poison into the seams of Navalny’s blue underpants.
As the squad’s chemical weapons specialist, Konstantin’s job was to remove any traces of poison from Navalny’s underwear confiscated at the Omsk hospital.
Navalny made a videotape of his conversation with Konstantin. It shows his supporters listening tensely and exchanging virtual thumbs-up as they realized that Navalny had recorded a confession from his own intended assassin.
Gregory’s column concludes:
Sergey Guriev, a seasoned observer of the Russian scene, maintains that the Navalny poisoning should remove any last doubts about the Kremlin’s routine use of political murder as an instrument of state policy. Navalny was scheduled to follow Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, and many others to their early graves. Prior to Navalny, Putin and his Kremlin allies could always blame sinister false flag operations, lone mavericks, or ethnic gangs for these murders. With an exposed assassination squad, aided by military weapons labs and transportation coordinated by transport police, it would strain credulity to argue that the Navalny poisoning was not an operation of the Kremlin itself.
No problem for Putin as long as his base of elderlies and his billionaire oligarchs stick with him.
So far, two thirds of his supporters seem to accept his bizarre narrative that the Navalny poisoning never occurred or, if it did, was carried out by the CIA.
Gregory’s column has the applicable links and resulting Russian derision of Putin — e.g., “They say that every morning before Putin puts on fresh underpants, he gives them to his guards to wear first” — none of which is to be missed. Beyond the derision, however, one serious postscript to the story comes in “Putin’s Former Filmmaker Arrested for Underwear Protest Outside the FSB Headquarters.” The story reports that the filmmaker was heard speaking before police stopped him: “It’s so that they’re clean. I think that everything should be clean—clean conscience, clean underwear—this is my civic position.”