Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is in a serious condition in a Siberian hospital after suffering symptoms of what his spokeswoman on Thursday said she believed was a deliberate poisoning.
Navalny, 44, was rushed to a hospital in the city of Omsk after he lost consciousness on a flight and his plane made an emergency landing.
The prominent lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner was placed in a coma on a ventilator, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on social media.
“We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea. It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid. Alexei is now unconscious,” Yarmysh said.
Russia expert ‘firmly believes it was a poisoning’
The TASS news agency cited the head doctor at a hospital in Omsk confirming that Navalny had been admitted there and saying he was in a serious condition.
Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Omsk, said doctors were doing “everything possible to stabilise his condition”, confirming that it was “serious”.
“The poisoning version is one of several versions being considered,” she added. “It’s not possible now to say what the reason was.”
A spokesperson for the Kremlin said the Russian presidency wished him a “speedy recovery”.
Alexei Navalny, Putin’s biggest internal critic
Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, had started feeling ill when returning to Moscow from Tomsk by plane, his spokeswoman said.
He had drank tea at a cafe at Tomsk airport before boarding his flight. The Interfax news agency quoted the cafe’s owners as saying they were checking CCTV cameras to try to establish what had happened.
His plane later made an emergency landing in Omsk so that he could be rushed to hospital.
Pavel Lebedev, a fellow passenger, posted an account of what he saw on social media.
“At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back. He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain,” Lebedev said.
S7, the airline he was travelling with, said Navalny had started feeling very ill soon after take-off. It said he had not eaten or drank anything on board.
Putin’s most prominent critic
Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, drew a parallel with an incident last year in which Navalny suffered an acute allergic reaction one doctor said could have resulted from poisoning with an unknown chemical.
Navalny has served several stints in jail in recent years for organising anti-Kremlin protests.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia’s arrests and detention of Navalny in 2012 and 2014 were politically motivated and violated his human rights, a ruling Moscow called questionable.
Russian officials have designated his non-profit organisation Foundation for Fighting Corruption, which has spearheaded major anti-corruption investigations, as a “foreign agent”, thereby curtailing its activities.
Navalny is not only Russia’s leading opposition politician — he’s also, in effect, one of the country’s top investigative journalists.
His video investigations, which are always exceptionally produced to be clear and understandable to ordinary people, are exemplars of the genre
— Ilya Lozovsky (@ichbinilya) August 20, 2020
Last month, Navalny had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.
He set up a network of campaign offices across Russia and has since been putting forward opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of Russia’s ruling party, United Russia.
Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Navalny has been frequently harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.
French daily Le Monde reported Thursday that France is ready to welcome Navalny on its territory so that he can receive the appropriate medical care.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)