But whoever it was, they unwittingly provided the anticorruption blogger and opposition leader with a picture-perfect kick-off for his longshot campaign to become mayor of the Russian capital.
The whole incident -- which saw Navalny roughly seized, held in a bus, and then released after his supporters confronted police -- also illustrates the Kremlin's paradox in dealing with this charismatic and wily foe.
With Navalny facing six years in prison on embezzlement charges widely viewed as fabricated, the Russian authorities find themselves on the horns of a dilemma: an acquittal will make him a conquering hero and a conviction could turn him into a martyr.
In the latest Power Vertical podcast, I discussed the Kremlin's Navalny dilemma with co-host Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and author of the blog "In Moscow's Shadows," and special guest David Satter, a longtime Moscow correspondent and a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
Is Navalny more dangerous to the Kremlin in prison or on the street?
Listen to or download the podcast above or subscribe to "The Power Vertical Podcast" on iTunes.