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Alexei Navalny. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

An undercover team working for Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) followed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on more than 30 trips to and from Moscow starting in 2017 before he was poisoned in August, according to a bombshell investigation led by Bellingcat.

Why it matters: The Kremlin has denied having any role in the poisoning of Navalny, who is one of the most prominent domestic critics of President Vladimir Putin. But an analysis of "voluminous telecom and travel data" by Bellingcat suggests the poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok “was mandated at the highest echelons of the Kremlin."

Between the lines: "This investigation is particularly important due to the legal vacuum in which no country other than Russia — the country implicated in the assassination attempt — has offered its jurisdiction for an official investigation into Navalny’s near-fatal poisoning," writes Bellingcat, an open-source journalism website that also identified the Russian officers behind the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the U.K.

The big picture: In addition to detailing specific movements and calls made by the officers allegedly involved in the poisoning, Bellingcat's investigation also alleges that Russia is operating a clandestine chemical weapons program operating under the cover of an FSB investigative unit.

Details: Bellingcat, which worked jointly with The Insider and in cooperation with CNN and Der Spiegel, found the attack was the culmination of years of stalking that began at least a month after Navalny's 2017 announcement that he would stand against Putin in presidential elections the next year.

  • The investigation names two Russian doctors working with at least five FSB operatives who flew with Navalny at least 30 times over three years, and possibly attempted to poison him at least once before the August attack.
  • Some FSB agents traveled to the hospital in the city of Omsk where Navalny was taken after the poisoning.

What they're saying: "Believe me when I say discovering Russia has a long running nerve agent based assassination programme targeting its most well known opposition figure was as much a shock to me as it is to you. How can governments across the world ignore this?" Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins tweeted.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Jan 19, 2021 - Podcasts

Bill Browder on Russia-U.S. relations after Alexei Navalny's arrest

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was recently arrested in Moscow, just months after being poisoned in an assassination attempt, in what could become Joe Biden’s first major foreign policy test.

Axios Re:Cap speaks with Bill Browder, an investor and author who has his own history of clashing with Putin, to better understand the Navalny situation and how the U.S. might respond by using a law that Browder helped create.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
11 mins ago - Economy & Business

First glimpse of the Biden market

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

Investors made clear what companies they think will be winners and which will be losers in President Joe Biden's economy on Wednesday, selling out of gun makers, pot purveyors, private prison operators and payday lenders, and buying up gambling, gaming, beer stocks and Big Tech.

What happened: Private prison operator CoreCivic and private prison REIT Geo fell by 7.8% and 4.1%, respectively, while marijuana ETF MJ dropped 2% and payday lenders World Acceptance and EZCorp each fell by more than 1%.

Mike Allen, author of AM
42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden-Harris, Day 1: What mattered most

President Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrive at the North Portico of the White House. Photo: Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

The Axios experts help you sort significance from symbolism. Here are the six Day 1 actions by President Biden that matter most.

Driving the news: Today, on his first full day, Biden translates his promise of a stronger federal response to the pandemic into action — starting with 10 executive orders and other directives, Caitlin Owens writes.