Russian politician in coma in ICU after alleged poisoning

Political foe of President Vladimir Putin taken to the hospital after consuming tea at an airport cafe before a flight.


World News

August 20, 2020 - 10:07 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is in a coma and on a ventilator in an intensive care unit in Siberia after falling ill from suspected poisoning that his allies believe is linked to his political activity. 

The 44-year-old critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia, and was taken to a hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter. 

She told the Echo Moskvy radio station that he must have consumed something from tea he drank at an airport cafe before boarding the plane early today. During the flight, Navalny started sweating and asked her to talk to him so that he could “focus on the sound of a voice.” He then went to the bathroom and lost consciousness, and has been in a coma in grave condition ever since. 

Other opposition figures were quick to suggest Kremlin involvement.

“We are sure that the only people that have the capability to target Navalny or myself are Russian security services with definite clearance from Russia’s political leadership,” Pyotr Verzilov, a member of Russia’s protest group Pussy Riot who ended up in intensive care after suspected poisoning in 2018, told The Associated Press. “We believe that Putin definitely is a person who gives that go-ahead in this situation.” 

Doctors at the Omsk ambulance hospital, where the politician is being treated, remain tight-lipped about his diagnosis and only said they were considering a variety of theories, including poisoning. 

Navalny’s wife Yulia arrived at the hospital in the afternoon, but medial workers would not let her see her husband because she did not have their marriage certificate and the patient did not consent, according to Yarmysh. 

Navalny’s doctor Yaroslav Ashikhmin told the independent Meduza outlet that he is trying to arrange his transfer to a clinic in Hanover or Strasbourg. 

Verzilov, who was flown to Berlin for treatment in 2018, said hospitals in Omsk or Moscow would not be able to treat Navalny properly and expressed concern about possible pressure from security services that doctors could be under in Russia. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today said it was necessary to wait for the test results showing what caused Navalny’s condition, adding the authorities would consider a request to allow Navalny to leave Russia, which has not fully opened its borders after a coronavirus lockdown, for treatment.

However, doctors at the Omsk hospital refused to give medical documents necessary for a transfer to Navalny’s wife and allies, Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union, who also flew to Omsk today, said in a tweet. 

State news agency Tass reported that police were not considering deliberate poisoning, a statement the politician’s allies dismissed as a propaganda ploy. 

The widow of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian agent who was killed in London by radioactive poisoning in 2006, voiced concerns that Navalny’s enemies within Russia may have decided that it’s time to use a “new tactic.”

“It was obvious he would not be stopped,” Marina Litvinenko told The Associated Press from Sicily, Italy. “Maybe they decided to do a new tactic not to stop him just with an arrest but to stop him with poison. It looks like a new tactic against Navalny.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a tweet that he was “deeply concerned” by the reports about the suspected poisoning of the politician. 

Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Navalny has been frequently detained by law enforcement and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.