A joint investigation by The Insider, Bellingcat and the BBC has ascertained that members of the group of FSB assassins who poisoned Alexey Navalny, Dmitry Bykov and Vladimir Kara-Murza constantly followed Boris Nemtsov during the last months of his life. They started tailing the politician immediately after Nemtsov began lobbying for more sanctions against Vladimir Putin's friends, and ended their surveillance on February 21, a few days before Nemtsov was shot near the Kremlin; the FSB men did follow him on his last trip. Just two days before the murder, they switched to another anti-Putin lobbyist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, who they later poisoned twice. The official investigation into Nemtsov's murder relied on the experts' reviews of the FSB Criminalistics Institute, an establishment with which one of Nemtsov's stalkers was directly connected.
According to the flight booking database, Nemtsov was followed by at least three FSB officers - Valery Sukharev, Dmitry Sukhinin and Alexei Krivoshchekov (Sukharev later joined the group of FSB officers who poisoned Kara-Murza, Dmitry Bykov and Alexei Navalny, while Krivoshchekov was at least involved in poisoning Navalny). The trips continued between May 2014 and February 2015. The FSB officers followed the same pattern that was later used with other victims: they usually arrived a few hours or a day before Nemtsov and left shortly before or immediately after him, so as not to cross paths with him en route (note that such a modus operandi does not fit into the «external surveillance» category).
In total, we observed 13 matching trips during this period, including trips to Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk. The first trip took place on May 19-21, 2014. It was during this period that Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. were active in lobbying in the United States for sanctions against Putin's inner circle. In late January 2014, Nemtsov met with U.S. Republican Senators John McCain and Ron Johnson and gave them the names of thirteen people to be added to the sanctions list. On March 20, the U.S. published an amended sanctions list that included, among others, the speaker of the State Duma Sergei Naryshkin, GRU chief Igor Sergun, Russian Railways head Vladimir Yakunin, FSKN director Viktor Ivanov and Putin's «wallets» - Yury Kovalchuk, Arkady and Boris Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko. We can see that two months later the FSB hitmen started following Nemtsov.
To what extent the FSB officers coordinated their activities with the Chechen killers is difficult to say, but some details are quite striking, such as the fact that the killers took their last trip together on February 16-17, 2015, while on February 21 the FSB killers did not follow Nemtsov to Yaroslavl; it was his last trip to another city, and he was murdered in Moscow on the 27th. Did the FSB officers already know about the forthcoming murder, or did they not follow him for some other reason? The fact that on February 25 (two days before the assassination) the group of FSB hitmen switched to another victim speaks in favor of the first scenario: that day they started to follow another major lobbyist for sanctions against Putin's inner circle, journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. As The Insider and Bellingcat reported earlier, that group later poisoned the journalist twice with a nerve agent (apparently, Novichok).
What was the exact mission of these FSB officers? To understand this, we should take a closer look at their specialization.
Valery Sukharev (cover name: Nikolai Gorokhov), a member of the FSB Directorate for the Protection of Constitutional Order, followed Nemtsov on all his trips during that period. He also followed Kara-Murza, Dmitry Bykov, and Alexei Navalny.
Sukharev is known to have made several dozen phone calls to high-ranking FSB officials associated with the poisoning of Navalny in August 2020 during the two weeks before the operation. Among others, he called Vladimir Bogdanov, head of the FSB's Scientific and Technical Service, and Stanislav Makshakov, deputy head of the Institute of Forensic Science. Judging by the calls, Sukharev was one rung lower in the chain of command than Colonel Makshakov and played the key organizational role in these and other assassination attempts. Judging by the phone calls, he also performed operational coordination between the Second Service of the FSB (and its Directorate for the Protection of Constitutional Order, UZKS), and the people from the Center for Special Technology (and the FSB Institute of Criminalistics). In all the known poisonings, the UZKS, which performs the functions of political police, operated jointly with the Institute of Criminalistics, which employs, among others, toxicology specialists (chemists and military doctors).
There is very little information on Sukharev in open sources; according to a leaked database from 2008 it's known he was eligible for special government benefits. Special government benefits are usually given to special service officers or military servicemen who received state decorations, as well as veterans of Russian military operations in Chechnya or Georgia.
Krivoshchekov can be attributed to the 2nd Service of the FSB based on his many joint trips with prominent members of that agency. His telephone communication pattern suggests that, like Sukharev, he was in charge of the Criminalistics Institute operatives during the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020. For example, two weeks before Navalny's trip to Novosibirsk and Tomsk, Krivoshchekov placed 24 phone calls to Ivan Osipov, one of the FSB operatives who, together with Alexei Aleksandrov, was responsible for poisoning Navalny's clothes with Novichok. During the same period, Krivoshchekov also made 38 phone calls to chemical weapons specialist Stanislav Makshakov, who was in charge of the poisoning team from the Institute of Criminalistics. Notably, on the night of August 19-20, 2020, he called Makshakov six times, the same night Navalny's clothes were poisoned.
We discovered Dmitry Sukhinin (born 1975) only during the investigation of this case. His resume, compiled from archived (and now deleted) posts in his Odnoklassniki account, shows that after graduating from high school with a focus on chemistry, he attended the Moscow Suvorov Military School and then graduated from the Institute of Cryptography at the FSB Academy. In the current active version of his Odnoklassniki account he replaced those educational establishments with the Moscow State Forestry Institute.
How closely the FSB men were monitoring Nemtsov and his plans is evident from their ticket reservations. When Nemtsov booked his tickets to Novosibirsk on July 2 at 00:10, Sukharev and Krivoschekov booked their tickets at 00:20.
In all the assassination attempts known to us (against Kara-Murza, Bykov and Navalny) the assassination team consisted of FSB officers, as well as chemists and medics from the FSB Institute of Forensic Science. Sukharev and Krivoshchekov, judging by their profiles, belong to the UZKS, while Sukhinin's role is not entirely clear, although nothing save for his graduation from a school with a chemical background indicates he could be a toxicology specialist from the Institute of Criminalistics. Rather, as a specialist in cryptography and information technology, he may have been used to gain access to Nemtsov's gadgets, to wiretap his communications, etc. One way or another, he was only involved in the first two trips, so it seems unlikely that the FSB hitmen tried to poison Nemtsov as they tailed him.
It is known, however, that the FSB's Institute of Forensic Science played a different role in Nemtsov's case: it was the Institute's experts who issued the forensic medical report proving that the DNA of Zaur Dadayev, the Chechen convicted for Nemtsov's murder, matched the DNA traces found at the crime scene. The report was signed by General Vladimir Bogdanov, director of the Institute of Forensic Science. The forensic report which confirmed the DNA match stated that «all the samples were used up in the process.»
Thus, the question of whether the group of FSB assassins worked in parallel with, and independently of, the Chechen group, or whether they coordinated their actions from the outset, is still open. Read the next chapter for more on how the Chechen killers organized Nemtsov's murder and why the official version differs from what actually happened.