The Man Putin Couldn't Kill (2021) Movie Script

This programme contains strong
language, scenes of violence
and graphic injury that some viewers
may find distressing.
Opposing Russia's president can be
seriously bad for your health.
Putin has made it very clear that
traitors don't deserve to live.
Assassins can track you down,
wherever you are.
In August 2020, Russia's
charismatic opposition leader,
Aleksei Navalny, was poisoned with
the notorious weapon Novichok.
Miraculously, he survived.
Putin, he's using this to kill me
and, you know, terrify others.
This is an extraordinary
story of assassination squads...
A murder machine exists in Russia,
and it is killing or trying to
kill many people.
..a family risking everything... astonishing confession...
It's the first time in history
that a murderer admitted to
the victim that they
tried to kill him.
..and poisoned underpants.
It's a tale of two men. One has
a team of assassins at his disposal.
The other's only weapons -
a sense of humour,
a team of intrepid investigators
and the power of social media.
At stake, the future of Russia.
It's the 20th of August, 2020.
Aleksei Navalny is flying home
to Moscow from the Siberian
city of Tomsk in Russia's
vast hinterland.
He's President Putin's
most famous opponent,
so he's recognised everywhere.
This could have been the last
photograph Navalny ever posed for.
He doesn't know it yet,
but he's been poisoned.
In less than an hour,
he'll be in a coma.
Navalny boards the plane for
the 3,000 km flight west to Moscow.
His assistant,
Kira Yarmysh, is with him.
He starts to watch his favourite
cartoon, Rick And Morty.
Paramedics are waiting
on the runway.
With his heart rate slowing,
they give him atropine -
a standard treatment
for insecticide poisoning.
But none of the medics know
whether he'll live or die.
But why would anyone
want to kill him?
Dobryi dyen!
For the last ten years, Navalny's
sophisticated YouTube videos
have made him Vladimir Putin's
most effective opponent.
It wasn't always this way.
These are his first less than
impressive efforts from 2007.
But Navalny's confidence
in the possibilities
of the internet was unshakeable.
He told me that this
is the future of politics,
and the young generation,
they are in the internet,
they are online, and talking to
them is the future of Russia.
First, he developed his live journal
account, then appeared Twitter...
..Facebook, and then, after some
time, YouTube, so it was a very
gradual development and emergence
of Navalny's social media empire.
Most Russian TV stations
were effectively
mouthpieces for Putin
and his party, United Russia.
Hey, hey! The internet,
however, was still free.
Navalny's live broadcasts
and investigations into corruption
were seen by tens of millions.
Over the years, he's made hundreds
of videos from all over Russia.
And on the day before the poisoning,
he's in Siberia to
shoot his latest one.
He's here to support two anti-Putin
candidates standing for election
and, as always,
highlighting local corruption.
Corruption is something
that every Russian
sees in their life
every single day.
And so that's an issue that
sort of gets people's attention,
and that focuses these
sometimes desperate public
expressions of discontent against
the Kremlin and the Putin regime
into one very clear direction.
Navalny's single-minded
focus on corruption has made him
powerful enemies,
and he's not the only person
in Tomsk on a special mission.
While he's out filming,
a secret hit squad that has been
following him for over three years
is breaking into his hotel room.
The next morning, Navalny
is in a coma when his wife, Yulia,
is called by Kira Yarmysh.
Yulia heads straight
to a Moscow airport
but faces a two-hour delay
before the next flight to Siberia.
Yulia Navalny has been by
Aleksei's side for over 20 years
and is a public figure
in her own right.
The couple met on holiday in Turkey
in 1998 and married two years later.
The Navalnys' daughter, Dasha,
was born in 2001 and is now
a student at Stanford University
in America, while their son, Zahar,
is at boarding school in Germany.
Yulia has supported Aleksei through
raids on their apartment,
lawsuits and worse.
She's his closest confidante,
his best friend
and the one who packs his bags
every time he goes to prison.
She is absolutely part
of his journey, both metaphorically,
physically, politically -
whichever way you want to call it.
As Yulia waits for her flight,
she knows Aleksei's life
hangs in the balance.
While Yulia is in the air,
Navalny's YouTube channel broadcasts
a live phone interview
with Kira Yarmysh.
Russian state television
takes a rather different
view of his illness.
Yulia and Navalny's doctor,
Anastasia Vasilyeva,
finally get to Omsk, but they're
refused permission to see Aleksei.
After two agonising hours,
the authorities finally relent.
The official line is that Navalny's
illness is due to low blood sugar
or possibly alcohol, but Yulia
and Anastasia Vasilyeva feel
certain that the doctors
are hiding something.
Alexei Navalny's road to
a hospital bed in Omsk
started in the last
days of the Soviet Union.
He was born in 1976 in a small
village near Moscow,
the son of an army officer,
and spent his childhood summers
with his grandmother, beside the
River Pripyat, in the shadow
of Chernobyl nuclear power station.
Russia's radioactivity reaches
Britain. Soviet television tonight
accused the Western media
of spreading slanderous inventions
about the Chernobyl accident.
But the Moscow Communist Party
chief told West German television
that radioactivity around the
nuclear plant was still high.
He was ten when the place became
a nuclear wasteland,
the result of Communist
inefficiency and lies.
Navalny spent every summer there,
swimming in the river,
which is the source of radiation.
So there is a personal
connection there.
It's a symbol of how dysfunctional
the Soviet Union is
and everything that's wrong with it,
that lies cost lives.
At the time of Chernobyl, Vladimir
Putin was a minor KGB
spy in Dresden,
then part of East Germany.
But by the turn of the millennium,
he'd become one of the most
powerful men in the world.
Alexei was just 23
when Putin became President.
Russians had endured nearly
ten years of economic chaos
and corruption, since the collapse
of the Soviet Union.
Many now welcomed a new,
young president,
who promised strong leadership,
even if he was
the ex-head of the KGB.
And he made friends abroad as well.
I looked the man in the eye, I found
him to be very straightforward
and trustworthy.
But some in Russia were not so sure.
Journalist and academic Yevgenia
Albats felt that he might not
be as committed to
democracy as he claimed.
Mostly, I was terrified
he will bring his power from the KGB
and they will take over.
And eventually, they will become
the ones who run the country.
It's not just one man who
was coming to power.
Albats set out to inspire a new
generation of young activists,
with meetings in her Moscow flat.
Navalny was included, but failed to
make much of an impression.
Alexei Navalny was not well known
in the democratic movement.
A lot of people would say that he's
a nice guy, he's a great organiser,
but he doesn't have any
political future.
It was a prediction that Navalny
quickly proved wrong.
By 2012, when Putin was elected
President for the third time,
Navalny had moved successfully
from the virtual world to the real
world of protest.
A powerful orator, he mobilised
tens of thousands in opposition to
Putin and his United Russia Party.
By focusing on corruption, he tapped
into widespread discontent
and tried to convince
the Russian people
that change really was possible.
Throughout 2012,
he continued his transformation
from troublemaking YouTuber to
troublemaking opposition politician.
Then in 2013, he ran for Mayor
of Moscow and incredibly,
almost forced a run off against
the United Russia candidate,
President Putin's former
chief of staff.
He'd made himself such a nuisance
that he had to be stopped.
In 2010,
Navalny had gone to study at Yale
University in the United States.
His time there has been
used by the state to paint him
as a traitor
and a paid agent of the CIA.
Myself and Alexei were at Yale
on the World Fellow Programme,
along with 12, 13 other people,
who they identify as being potential
global leaders, influencers.
There were two real challenges.
One would be that he was being
recruited by the CIA.
The other that's come out
is that he would himself be
accused of corruption.
They put together a fake
set of exchanges between
CIA agents or something,
where they would refer to
Navalny as Agent Freedom.
Anti-corruption activist has to
be transformed into the agent
of the enemy.
Navalny may be fighting corruption,
but he is a hired gun of the West,
to undermine our sovereignty.
And I think some people by now
honestly believe this
narrative within the regime.
As predicted by his colleagues
at Yale, Navalny also became
the focus of police
investigations into corruption.
He was accused of stealing
half a million dollars
from a timber company.
Then, a year later,
both he and his brother Oleg,
were found guilty of defrauding
a French cosmetics company.
It's very advantageous for Kremlin,
you know, when somebody is fighting
corruption to say that
he's corrupt himself.
To really understand what was
going on takes a lot of time.
So when people don't have
a lot of time, you know,
they make all kinds of assumption.
Even though, legally,
there is nothing there.
The European Court later found
that in the first case,
Navalny didn't get a fair trial
and his conviction in the second
was arbitrary and unfair.
Navalny's brother Oleg
served his full sentence of three
and a half years in a penal colony,
while Alexei was paroled after a
few weeks on condition that he
report to Russia's prison
service twice a month.
More damaging to his reputation
as a liberal are two videos that
Navalny himself
made in the mid-2000s.
One in support of gun ownership.
And another against immigration.
He was naive at that time
and I think that this was a mistake
and I think it's still haunting him.
He's not the same guy as he was
when he was filming these videos
and I think we have to give him
the benefit of changing his mind
and, you know, being mistaken.
Navalny's nationalist
sympathies also led him
to march alongside Neo Nazis,
so-called Russian Patriots,
and others on the right wing
fringe at several rallies.
There's this endless question
with Navalny about those
nationalist views, and there's
some people who have concerns
about them in good faith
and there's people who have
concerns about them in bad faith.
I asked him about those videos and
he was quite clear that he didn't
regret them, that they were not
something to be taken seriously, but
he was very clear, he wasn't going
to say that they were a mistake.
I know him as a person
I made friends with.
We sat next to each other in class,
we had lunch together,
we went on socials together.
Since then, I hear people attempting
to pigeonhole him as xenophobic,
anti-immigrant, racist,
hostile and all these other things.
There is always going to be
an attack on his character,
an attempt to discredit the work
he's been doing to expose
these frauds, just like there
was attempts to charge him
with corruption a few years ago.
But even where he has said things
that are problematic,
my experience of him leaves me
with hope for him.
The Kremlin has capitalised
on Navalny's apparent racism
and extreme nationalism and
Amnesty International at one point
suspended their support for him.
But in August 2020, as he lay
in a coma in Omsk, it was clear that
someone, somewhere had decided
a more permanent solution was
required to make the Navalny
problem go away.
Nuremberg Airport, Germany.
An air ambulance, paid for
by Navalny's supporters,
is on standby
to fly 4,000 km to Siberia.
But there's a problem -
the Kremlin doesn't want Alexei
to leave the country just yet.
The team of medics set off anyway,
hoping the Russians can be persuaded.
Once in Siberia,
the German team is told
their patient is too sick to travel.
The Russians, it seems,
are playing for time.
We said, hey, look,
gentlemen, it would be great
if our team could visit the patient,
could speak to you in person,
face-to-face, discuss the situation,
show them our equipment,
to convince them let our team
go to the patient and see
if we can discuss it and see if this
could change their minds of course.
In the hospital,
Yulia is not allowed
to speak to the German doctors.
Whoever ordered Navalny's poisoning
knows exactly what is wrong
with him.
But it appears that,
having messed up the murder,
they are now trying
to cover their tracks.
When the German medics
are whisked away to their hotel,
Yulia gives an impromptu
press conference.
Navalny is also being talked about
in Berlin.
Two days after he was stretchered,
dying, from an aeroplane,
Navalny is on the move again.
Vladimir Putin, it seems,
has relented,
and we reveal that the crucial
intervention came from Finland.
There was a very significant
international pressure
applied from French President
Macron, from Charles Michel,
the president of the European
Council, and I think the final call,
which nailed it, was a call
from the Finnish president,
Sauli Niinisto, who has, like,
a more or less trustful relations
with Putin.
Probably President Niinisto
had found some right words
to persuade Putin
to avoid major scandal.
Still unsure what has caused
Navalny's illness,
the aircrew are taking no chances.
They put him in a plastic case,
to make sure whatever is on or in
him doesn't affect anyone else.
Exactly what that is
remains a mystery.
In Germany, a convoy carries
Navalny to the Charite Hospital
in Berlin.
Blood and urine samples are sent
for analysis to various laboratories
around Europe, and the mystery
poison is finally identified.
It is a form of Novichok, the banned
chemical weapon infamously used
against Yulia and Sergei Skripal
in Salisbury, England, in 2018.
Russian state television
has a very different way
of presenting the latest instalment
of the drama to its viewers.
While accusations fly around the
world, Navalny is still in a coma.
But miraculously,
just over two weeks later,
his condition has improved so much
that his doctors decide
to bring him round.
Navalny leaves hospital
after just four and a half weeks,
but he is struggling to walk,
his hands shake,
and he's constantly exhausted.
A month later,
he appears on American television.
It's clear his spirit is unbroken.
We should fight these people
because they will never stop.
They will poison someone else,
they will poison more people.
As he heads to the Black Forest
to recuperate,
attention turns
to who tried to kill him.
The revelations that eventually
emerge are astonishing.
A secret poison lab,
a state-sponsored assassination programme,
and a team of James Bond wannabes
with the competence
of Johnny English.
You will not see us run.
You will not see us hide.
You will not see us give up.
This is our country.
We have to fight for it.
While Navalny recovers
in Germany,
Vladimir Kara-Murza knows
exactly what he's going through.
An outspoken critic of Putin,
he has twice been the victim
of suspected poisoning.
I suddenly felt difficulty
breathing, my heart began to race.
I felt my blood pressure drop.
I began to sweat, I began to vomit.
It's painful and terrifying,
to be feeling
that you are dying at this moment
and to not be able to breathe.
And after that, I don't remember
anything for more than a month.
Like Navalny, Kara-Murza survived,
but he knows he is
one of the lucky ones.
It's a strange statistical model,
that people who happen to oppose
the regime of Vladimir Putin...
..happen to just
walk into these strange accidents
and suffer from really bad health
and just be really
not careful with what they do
and how they live their lives.
There is a long list of victims.
Journalist Anna Politkovskaya,
shot on her doorstep.
Whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky,
dead after a beating in prison.
Defector Alexander Litvinenko,
poisoned in London
with polonium-210,
served to him in a cup of tea.
Politician Sergei Yushenkov,
shot dead near his house.
And there are many more
who have perished suddenly
or had lucky escapes.
Putin has made it very clear that
he thinks traitors don't deserve
to live and we have seen people
he considers to be traitors,
like Alexander Litvinenko or
Sergei Skripal, you know,
the denials they have had anything
to do with those murders,
those attempted murders in the case
of Skripal, they have been
sort of almost denials
with a bit of a wink and a nod.
The Russian state media alleged
that Litvinenko himself
was illegally trading in polonium
and accidentally swallowed it.
When Viktor Yushchenko,
the Ukrainian presidential
candidate, suffered a horrible
poisoning, Russian state television
said that he ate bad sushi.
With me, it was too much alcohol
in combination with some medicines.
With Alexei Navalny,
it was low blood sugar.
Every time, the Kremlin
and its propaganda machine
immediately starts to throw out
these "alternative" explanations.
They immediately start
to muddy the waters.
One assassination that hit
Alexei Navalny particular hard
was the murder in 2015 of his
political mentor, Boris Nemtsov.
Nemtsov had been the Deputy
Prime Minister in the '90s,
but fell out with Putin
and joined the opposition.
My father and Navalny got closer.
There was one moment when they found
themselves locked in one prison
cell and they spent the whole night
together, talking to each other.
My father was a political visionary.
He was very experienced
as a politician.
He was...
..a person who united
opposition leaders
because he didn't have
personal ambitions.
That's what many other opposition
leaders later admitted -
he was like a unifying figure
in the Russian opposition.
In February 2015,
Nemtsov was walking home
over the Bolshoy Moskvoretskiy Bridge,
within sight of the Kremlin,
in central Moscow.
Despite the site's
strategic importance,
all CCTV cameras in the area
had conveniently been turned off.
But a distant view from a local
TV station captured the hit.
As a truck draws up alongside him,
a gunman shoots Nemtsov
in the back before making
his getaway in the circled car.
I went to bed at around 11 o'clock,
and I had a habit to switch off all
my smartphones, not to be disturbed.
My mother, for some reason,
did not do that on this night.
In the midnight,
I heard her crying and yelling,
and I didn't understand
what had happened.
And then she came to my room
and she said, er...
"Our father is dead."
This was the most brazen,
the most high-profile political
assassination in the modern
history of Russia and to this day,
the organisers,
the masterminds of this crime
continue to enjoy full protection
from the highest levels
of the Russian state,
for reasons that I think are obvious
to everyone who is watching this.
He mentioned that
he could be killed,
but I don't believe that
he believed in it, really.
He thought like that
I was in the government in the '90s,
I'm one of the most high-profile
politicians in Russia.
It's impossible.
Whoever ordered Nemtsov's murder
has never been identified.
And five years later,
as Navalny recovers from the
Novichok attack in the Black Forest,
it looks as if whoever poisoned him
is also going to get away with it.
But Bellingcat, a loose alliance
of citizen journalists,
founded in a bedroom in Leicester,
has other ideas.
Bellingcat has an incredible
record of solving global whodunnits.
It tracked the Russian missile
launcher that brought down
flight MH17 over Ukraine,
and named the Salisbury poisoners,
identifying them as Russian spies.
As Navalny recuperates,
its researchers are piecing
together the evidence to stand up
a sensational accusation.
The big picture that we got
was that, yes,
a murder machine exists in Russia
and it is killing,
or trying to kill many people,
and the question is, how many?
Following on from its investigation
into the Salisbury poisoning
of the Skripals,
the Bellingcat team found
a secret Russian chemical weapons
plant called the Signal Institute.
With mobile phone records
bought on the Russian black market,
they discovered links
between senior staff there
and a team within Russia's
secret police, the FSB.
The FSB has this scary
second service which is
the equivalent of Hitler's Gestapo.
It is essentially the political
police that goes after
opposition figures.
We had just completed
an investigation
into the Signal Institute,
which we found continued to engage
in production
and upgrading of chemical weapons.
And what we started doing then
was looking at metadata
and call logs of people at the top
of this scientific institute,
and trying to find
if there is any interconnection
with somebody from the FSB.
This information is important
in two ways.
First of all, of course,
we understand that this person
speaks with another and we can link
two different agents together.
And through GPS,
we see where this person is located.
And we found that one of the most
frequent counterparts
of the scientific institute guy
from the FSB side was communicating
frequently with five people that
have a chemical weapons background
or a medical background, or
a chemical engineering background.
Then we started tracing
their travel.
And we found that there had been
significant overlaps between
their travel and destinations that
Alexei Navalny had travelled to.
At the outset, we found three or
four overlaps and we thought,
well, this could still be
a coincidence.
By tracking their flights and
using facial recognition software,
they found that members of the team
were travelling under fake names
and several were using passports
with consecutive serial numbers,
a giveaway that they were produced
in a batch by the FSB.
We delved further and deeper
and we found a total of more than 35
overlaps and then we thought, OK,
well, this cannot be a coincidence.
This must be the team
that has been tailing him,
and this could not be just
a political surveillance team
because a political surveillance
team would not include a doctor,
a chemical engineer and
a chemical weapons specialist.
Either they were creating
a pattern of his movements
so that they can plan an
assassination operation when needed,
or they were always on standby,
waiting for a political decision
from somebody high up,
who might have decided, hmm,
now is the time because he becomes
a risk or a danger.
The Bellingcat investigators then
discovered a direct connection
between the FSB poison team
and Navalny's last journey,
to Tomsk.
One of the FSB unit, Alexandrov,
he switched on his cellphone
for only one second in Tomsk.
I think he was just
changing his Sim card,
because he wanted to work secretly.
But he didn't know that even if you
turn on your phone, it's enough
to send one byte of information
to your telephone operator.
Bellingcat's painstaking research
has found enough evidence
left behind by the would-be
assassins to prove beyond reasonable
doubt that there is a team of
chemical killers stalking Navalny.
And coming up, for the first time,
the man who invented Novichok
shares a shocking revelation.
This is Shikhany, a closed military
town 1,000 km southeast of Moscow.
It's been a centre for chemical
weapons research for decades.
British intelligence believes
the Novichok used on the Skripals
in Salisbury was manufactured here.
It might even have been made
by this man.
Uglev's knowledge of
how Novichok works
meant that he recognised
Navalny's symptoms
long before lab tests proved
it was the poison used on him.
Uglev thinks that the Russians
have secretly made
his original invention more deadly.
This suggests Russia has not only
been violating international
chemical weapons treaties by storing
and using old nerve agents,
it's also been covertly
developing new poisons
as part of its
assassination programme.
Uglev also believes he knows how
the Novichok was administered.
As soon as Navalny's team in Tomsk
got news of his collapse,
they went to his hotel room
to collect anything that might
be evidence of foul play
and sent it to Germany.
Novichok was later found
on the outside of a water bottle,
but not in the water.
Uglev knows why.
A secret chemical weapon...
..poisoned underpants
and a crack team of assassins.
What could possibly go wrong?
It's six weeks before
Putin's poisoners
very nearly kill Navalny in Siberia,
and Yulia and Alexei have decided
they need a summer holiday.
What better romantic getaway
can there be
than a week in the Baltic resort
of Kaliningrad?
Coincidentally, three FSB secret
agents have exactly the same idea
and book a vacation to the same
destination at the same time.
Even hit men deserve a break
now and again.
Three days into their holiday, the
Navalnys are walking along the beach
when Yulia starts to feel unwell.
By the next morning,
Yulia had recovered,
so we'll never know
if this was just some bad sushi
or if the three men who were
following the Navalnys -
all with chemical weapons
expertise -
had made a botched attempt
to kill Alexei
and almost poisoned Yulia.
We cannot be 100% sure that that's
what happened, but what we do see
is that the team was there exactly
on the time when she fell ill,
and that immediately after that,
there was a spike of phone calls
between this team
and people at the Signal Institute,
which produces Novichok.
The Bellingcat dossier shows that
a chemical weapons hit squad
had been following Navalny
for years.
But what is it about the summer of
2020 that makes someone, somewhere
decide that Alexei Navalny must die?
REPORTER: The March to Freedom,
attended by tens of thousands today.
This was a remarkable display
of people power without fear.
Nine days before
Navalny's poisoning, Minsk,
the capital of the former Soviet
republic of Belarus, was in turmoil.
700 km east of Moscow,
and not even part of Russia,
Belarus has been ruled for
the last 25 years
by a man many call Europe's
last dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.
As he sought a sixth term in office
in 2020,
an opposition movement
seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Its figurehead was a previously
unknown English teacher,
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
For decades, Putin watched
and supported
Belarus's oppressive throwback
to Soviet rule.
Could his reaction to the protests
have sealed Navalny's fate?
What happened in Belarus
may be a coincidence,
but certainly I think
there was probably a feeling
that when you have
latent discontent,
having any outlet to express it
is dangerous.
And a charismatic politician,
with a network of
dedicated campaigners
in cities across the country,
if he is someone that,
at the crisis moment, pops up
and is offering an alternative,
I think that's very dangerous.
REPORTER: For the past week, this
country has been the latest arena
in the tussle between autocracy
and democracy.
As the protesters in Belarus
threatened to topple their leader,
the question in the Kremlin of
what to do about Navalny
became increasingly urgent.
I think that Vladimir Putin
believed that
this is a very,
very likely possibility.
And he understood that, of course,
Navalny would be the person who
would bring hundreds of thousands
of people in Russia to the streets.
REPORTER: The revolution
is in seductive mode.
And who knows if the soldiers'
awkward blushes
will translate into
a failure to fire?
They were hugely unnerved
by the protests.
And he saw it as an omen of
similar things coming to Russia.
So, the connections were
not hard to build.
With Navalny on his way to Siberia,
the order went out to eliminate
Putin's turbulent tormentor.
But ultimately, the quick decisions
of a pilot who wasn't in on the plot
and paramedics who were just
trying to save a life
led to yet another
botched assassination.
And from his German retreat,
Navalny - armed with
Bellingcat's research -
begins to taunt Putin
and his team of poisoners.
It's one thing to understand
something intellectually,
as it were, and it's quite another
to be shown the faces and names
of the actual people
who tried to kill me.
I was looking at the photographs,
and I was seeing just normal,
ordinary faces -
you know, the kind that I would see
here on the streets of Moscow
every single day. And yet these
people are professional murderers
in the employment of the state.
I was thinking to myself,
"What do these people talk about
at the family dinner table?"
What do their kids ask them about -
"How many people
did you poison today, Daddy?"
It's mind-boggling.
REPORTER: We enter
a rundown apartment building
on the outskirts of Moscow
where operative Oleg Tayakin lives.
With the help of Bellingcat
and Navalny, a journalist from CNN
decides to track down
one of the alleged assassins.
My name's Clarissa Ward.
I work for CNN.
Can I ask you a couple of questions?
No surprise that Mr Tayakin
didn't want to chat.
But his boss, the president,
was more forthcoming.
He admitted that there had been
FSB people tailing Navalny.
Interestingly enough, he also said,
"If we had tried to poison him,
we would have finished the job,"
which is one of the most shocking
things to come from a head of state,
because he did not even try to argue
that "We don't kill people."
He just said, "If we want to kill
people, we do it properly."
As 2020 draws to a close,
Navalny has another surprise
lined up for the president.
Navalny's newest video
blows apart Putin's claim
that if the FSB had been involved,
they'd have done the job properly
and Alexei would be dead.
Navalny calls up one of the team
involved in the poisoning,
posing as the assistant to
one of Putin's most senior advisers.
For a long time, I thought, "There's
no way that this guy wouldn't have
"recognised Alexei's voice. There's
no way that he's not fooling us."
Probably at any given moment
in time, we will have the FSB
break down the door in this German
house we were in and just kill us.
And then I thought, "Well,
this is real, this is happening.
"The guy really thinks he's talking
to the aide to the boss."
And he's spilling the beans
in real time.
It's just unbelievable.
I mean, I assume it's the first time
in the history of criminality
that the alleged murderers
actually admitted to the victim
that they tried to kill him,
describing exactly how they did it
and where they put the Novichok.
Like me and you, we thought
Russian secret services
are professional and they're scary.
The underpants story
created a stream of memes
that make fun of the Kremlin,
but also of secret services,
and equate them with underpants
washers, underpants cleaners,
underpants poisoners.
And this is probably
the worst damage
done to the Russian secret services
that I have seen in my career.
After Navalny throws his
latest YouTube custard pie
at Putin from the relative
safety of Germany,
people start to wonder
if he'll ever return to Russia.
Some of his supporters want him
to stay in the West,
part of the ever-expanding
Russian opposition-in-exile.
But on the 13th of January, 2021,
Navalny ends the speculation -
he's going home.
I challenged him
whether that was smart,
whether that was expedient,
and he said it doesn't matter.
He said, I have to return to Russia
because the alternative means
soon I will be just an emigre
who's just yelling at Russia.
I need to be where my followers are.
I need to be there.
and Yulia board a flight to Moscow.
The plane is packed
with journalists.
The master of social media
is stage managing his return
for maximum impact.
He's even chosen a Russian airline
called Pobeda, meaning Victory.
Seated a few rows behind the
Navalnys is Arkady Ostrovsky.
I knew this was a big political act.
It was no ordinary flight and,
with real history,
you sensed it was happening
there and then.
It's a flight carrying him
back into politics and turning him
into sort of a mythical figure.
Hundreds of supporters gather
at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport
to welcome their hero home.
But at the last moment,
the flight is diverted to another
airport where a rather different
group is waiting for him.
He's arrested as he clears
passport control
and spirited away
to a police station.
He's charged with violating
the terms of his parole
from 2014 by not reporting
immediately to the authorities
in Russia on his discharge
from hospital in Germany.
With Navalny behind bars and
facing a lengthy prison sentence,
Putin seems to be holding
all the aces.
But Aleksei still has at least
one more card up his sleeve,
and it's something Vladimir Putin
will never forget or forgive.
Awaiting trial inside one of
Russia's toughest prisons,
Matrosskaya Tishina,
some people would be cowed.
Not Alexei Navalny.
Via his lawyers,
he greenlights the release of
his most audacious video yet.
His team have been secretly
working on it for months.
Navalny is about to be sent away
for a long time,
and he lobs this missile attack
at the Kremlin from behind bars.
In ten days, the film -
Putin's Palace -
racks up over 100 million views.
By February, it's been seen by
a quarter
of Russia's adult population.
It combines biting satire
with forensic investigation,
in a direct attack
on Vladimir Putin.
For many people across Russia,
this was like a big eye-opener.
It reveals the existence of
a secret palace on the Black Sea
that allegedly belongs
to the Russian President.
Putin, for years, has maintained
this ascetic image, you know,
like he only works for Russia 24/7
and he doesn't care about riches,
material things, you know?
Putin's approval rating
has a six percentage point dip
in three, four weeks
after the movie was released.
People actually realised that
this is essentially a maniac
preoccupied with luxury.
As damaging as the revelations
of personal greed
are the details
about the palace itself.
Gold toilet brushes
worth 700 euros each,
a retractable stripper pole
and a room for playing with
toy cars.
The film questions not just
Putin's greed but his sanity.
Putin denies he has any connection
to the palace, let alone owns it.
Then at the end of January 2021,
his former judo sparring partner,
the oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, steps
forward to claim that it's his.
With just two weeks to go
before Navalny is due in court
for sentencing, this deliberate
baiting of Putin
seems calculated to ensure
he will become a martyr.
Far away from the excess
of Putin's palace,
the next scene in the battle
between Navalny and the Kremlin
plays out in a dingy
Moscow courtroom.
The outcome is never in doubt.
Navalny is sentenced to
three and a half years in prison
for failing to comply with the terms
of his parole.
Before he's led away,
he makes an impassioned speech
that's secretly recorded,
mocking his would-be assassins
and their master.
He saves his final gesture
for his wife, Yulia.
There is always this
double optic with Navalny.
He is talking to the nation,
he is talking to all his supporters.
But actually, he is talking
and addressing himself
to Yulia Navalnaya.
And then they are separated
and he is standing behind
the bulletproof glass in this cage,
and he makes the heart symbol
with his hands.
Navalny is moved to
Pokrov Penal Colony No 2,
100 km east of Moscow.
THEY CHAN It's one of Russia's
harshest prisons.
Konstantin Kotov spent
four long years here,
sentenced for taking part
in political rallies.
Navalny gets Instagram messages
out to his supporters
through his lawyers.
But as the prison regime
takes its toll,
the effects of the Novichok
mean his health starts to fail.
The authorities refuse to take him
to hospital.
He spends 24 days on hunger strike,
demanding better health care.
What we see now is that
he's in jail,
with a seriously deteriorating
medical condition.
Some of the symptoms we see
are neurological symptoms.
He doesn't feel his right leg.
He cannot control the muscles
of his right leg.
But because the Russian authorities
refused to recognise
he was poisoned in the first place,
doctors are not even allowed to take
that previous poisoning into account
when they are diagnosing
what's wrong with him now.
And this itself is criminal
and can be fatal.
The months since
Navalny's imprisonment
have seen Russia face
deepening oppression.
In June, Navalny's
anti-corruption foundation,
Fond Borby s Korruptsiyey,
was designated
an extremist organisation,
making it equivalent
to Al-Qaeda and Isis.
Supporting Navalny in any way
can now get you arrested.
His allies had hoped to use tactical
voting to beat Putin's party,
United Russia,
in September's elections.
Now, they're just hoping to
stay out of prison.
Over the course of making this film,
our contributors have been outlawed
and imprisoned.
In Tomsk, Ksenia Fadeeva
has been arrested twice
and had her computers seized.
Roman Dobrokhotov's home
was raided by the police,
and he was taken in for questioning.
Vladimir Milov has chosen to go
into exile in Latvia.
Kira Yarmysh was put under
nightly house arrest
and has now gone into exile
in Finland.
Politician Ilya Yashin
has been barred
from contesting future elections.
Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva was arrested
on September 1.
And in Moscow, police
have used hacked data
to find and question
Navalny's low-level supporters,
rounding them up
in alphabetical order.
Though they are both children
of the Soviet Union,
Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny
have radically opposing visions
for Russia and its place
in the world.
The poisoning and imprisonment
of Alexei Navalny
means Vladimir Putin
appears to have won.
Navalny's organisation has been
reduced to rubble.
And yet the attempt
to destroy Navalny
has drawn the eyes of the world
to Putin's most persistent critic.
We know from Russia's own history
that major political change
usually comes like this,
suddenly and unexpectedly.
And I myself am old enough
to remember that no-one
at the beginning of August of 1991
predicted that the Soviet regime
would not exist
by the end of the month
and that one of the most repressive
and horrific totalitarian systems
in the history of humanity
will go down in three days.
This is how things happen in Russia.
None of us can tell
exactly when or how
political change is going to come.
The only thing we know
is that it will -
because nothing is forever.
And Vladimir Putin is not
going to be an exception.
His regime is not going to be
an exception.
Both Vladimir Putin and
Alexei Navalny want to be remembered
as the man who defined
21st-century Russia.
Only one of them can succeed.
Alexei Navalny will become
President of the Russian Federation.
He will become the leader
who is going to turn Russia
back on its democratic path.
On an aeroplane one morning
in August 2020,
Alexei Navalny stared death
in the face.
He has survived...for now.
I think it's a good thing.
It's very useful for a politician,
maybe, facing death once.
Maybe ironically, I became kind of
more human after this facing death.