'Russian Watergate': Russian Social Media Reacts After Navalny 'Dupes' FSB Agent On His Poisoning

By Ivan Belyayev

Robert Coalson

Within 24 hours of being posted, Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny's video report of a conversation in which a Federal Security Agency (FSB) chemist appears to confess to participating in Navalny's poisoning with a deadly nerve agent in August racked up nearly 12 million views.

 A video report posted one week earlier that identified the FSB agents who tracked Navalny and purportedly attempted to assassinate him at least three times has been viewed nearly 19 million times.

The shocking report, in which Navalny appears to trick FSB military chemist Konstantin Kudryavtsev into confessing that FSB agents smeared a toxin from the Novichok group in the oppositionist's underwear in a hotel in Tomsk in a bid to kill him, lit up the Russian Internet.

A full day after the video landed, Navalny's name was still No. 2 on Twitter's "Russia Trends" list. And St. Petersburg writer and journalist Tatyana Shorokhova wrote: "This was the day the entire Russian Facebook rumbled."

History In The Making

"What Navalny did to the FSB with his investigations, in terms of the extent of the demoralization and humiliation of the employees of this 'new aristocracy' is comparable only to the historical moment when the monument to [Soviet secret police founder Feliks] Dzerzhinsky was dragged along the Lubyanka like a market girl by the hair "wrote the humorous Stalingulag account on Twitter, referring to the August 1991 toppling of the colossal Dzerzhinsky statue in front of Moscow's KGB headquarters at Lubyanka.

Moscow photographer Yevgeny Feldman also highlighted the potentially historic significance of the episode, writing on Twitter: "Russia's Watergate: senseless and pitiless."

Former State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov wrote on Facebook that Navalny's investigations mean Russia "has entered a new phase in the recognition of the criminal character and complete amorality of the Putin regime…. Russia is ruled by a criminal band that has seized power and that in order to continue its usurpation is prepared to undertake openly monstrous crimes."

Time To Investigate?

Other observers noted that the revelations would seem to put significant pressure on the government of President Vladimir Putin to open a criminal investigation into Navalny's poisoning. Previously, the government had said there was no evidence of a crime and had insinuated that Navalny either poisoned himself or was poisoned after he was medically evacuated to Germany by Western security agents.

"This is a serious business, but I was laughing my head off," wrote former Russian oligarch and Putin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Twitter, addressing Putin by his first name and patronymic. "It looks like a criminal case will have to be opened after all, eh, Vladimir Vladimirovich?"

On Facebook, journalist Roman Dobrokhotov, of The Insider, wrote: "Earlier we said: 'Well, what more proof do you need? Do you insist that they personally confess to everything?' Now look – they have confessed."

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who also is a vocal critic of Putin, compared the Navalny case to the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in a post on Twitter: "Doing business as usual with Putin after this, like ignoring the Saudi murder of Khashoggi, just encourages more murders. It doesn't matter if they get caught if they get to keep killing critics with impunity."

Politics Is All In The Timing

Still other commentators noted that Navalny's revelations come just days after Putin's end-of-the-year marathon press conference. During the December 17 event, Putin denied that Russian agents had poisoned Navalny and dismissed the accusations as disinformation from the CIA.

The humorous Twitter account Prof. Preobrazhensky noted that many more people have watched Navalny's video than tuned in for Putin's much-hyped Q-and-A session.

Activist Mikhail Svetov praised the political acumen of Navalny's timing in a post on Twitter: "The way that Navalny knows how to pick his moment deserves particular respect. He could have rushed and published the recording before Putin's press conference. But he held on until afterward in order to give the Kremlin the chance to dig itself in still deeper. This is real politics."

Political commentator and former head of Gazprom-Media Alfred Kokh wrote on Facebook: "Putin was dissected like a complete sucker. A real professional should have assumed that his opponent had a trump card in reserve."

In a post on Facebook, Voronezh lawyer Vasily Shlykov was even more direct: "According to the codes of the Russian-speaking world, any officer and soldier who has sworn an oath to the Fatherland must, after such a thing, shoot himself. Putin is an officer! Russia has never seen such a shameful thing!!"

Journalist Roman Super voiced the general surprise at the low level of professionalism the FSB agents allegedly involved in the case seemed to show: "In just 20 years, [Putin] destroyed all state institutions in general, not even sparing the State Security Committee [KGB] that pushed him to the zenith of this beautiful Russian chaos. But still he understands nothing. That is talent."


The day after the Navalny video appeared, Russia's state news agency TASS cited a survey from the Kremlin-friendly All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) in which a plurality of Russians named Vladimir Putin "2020's politician of the year."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Ivan Belyayev.