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Kremlin critic Navalny said to be in battle for life after suspected poisoning

Aleksei Navalny (Evgeny Feldman/Novaya Gazeta/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russian doctors say they are battling to save the life of Aleksei Navalny in a hospital intensive-care unit in Siberia after the outspoken Kremlin critic fell ill with what his spokeswoman suspects is a case of poisoning.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner “is still on a ventilator. He is in a coma in grave condition. There are no test results as yet,” Kira Yarmysh tweeted on August 20.

She said earlier that Navalny felt ill while on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, forcing the aircraft to make an unscheduled landing in Omsk, also in Siberia, where he was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

Yarmysh said she believed the politician was poisoned after drinking a cup of tea he had bought at the Tomsk airport.

“We assume that Aleksei was poisoned with something mixed into the tea. It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid,” Yarmysh said.

Anatoly Kalinichenko, a doctor at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No.1 where Navalny is staying, told reporters that Navalny was in serious, yet stable condition, and that medics were working to “save his life.”

However, he said there was “no certainty that the cause of his condition is poisoning,” adding, “This is one of the possible reasons” and that several diagnoses were being considered as tests are carried out.

But Yarmysh complained that doctors “are obviously stalling and aren’t saying what they know,” adding the hospital was full of police officers.

“The hospital already has more police than doctors. Investigative Committee just arrived,” she said.

The Kremlin said it was aware that President Vladimir Putin’s chief critic was ill and wished him well, but that there was no evidence yet to back claims he had been poisoned.

The state news agency TASS quoted a source as saying that when the opposition blogger was admitted to the hospital, the preliminary diagnosis was “acute poisoning with psychodysleptics.

Ashikhmin also said that Western clinics had a better chance of finding the substance that may have caused the alleged poisoning.

The cafe where Navalny bought the tea was in a tightly secured area after check-in and security controls.

A law enforcement source told TASS that interviews with workers from the shop showed they knew little about what happened.

A picture on social media appears to show Navalny with some other passengers as they took a bus to the plane for boarding.

Pavel Lebedev, a passenger on the flight where Navalny fell ill, said that at the start of the flight Navalny “went to the toilet and didn’t return.”

“He was really sick and is still screaming in pain. They didn’t say what exactly happened to him. We landed in Omsk. Ambulance arrived,” he added in a post on social media.

Navalny, a staunch critic of President Vladimir Putin, has exposed rampant corruption in Russia.

He has been jailed several times in recent years, barred from running for president, and had a bid to run for Moscow mayor blocked.

Navalny has suffered physical attacks in the past.

He endured chemical burns to one of his eyes in 2017 after he was assaulted with antiseptic dye.

In July 2019, Navalny was given a 30-day jail term after calling for unauthorized protests. During that jail sentence, he was taken ill to a hospital with severe swelling of the face and a rash, and later alleged he was poisoned.

“Obviously, they did the same to him now,” said Yarmysh, the press secretary for the Anti-Corruption Foundation Navalny founded in 2011.

The head of the foundation’s legal department, Vyacheslav Gimadi, wrote on Twitter, “There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned for his political position and activity.”

Navalny’s lawyers are requesting a probe into attempted assassination, he added.

EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said he was “worried to hear about Alexei Navalny’s suspected poisoning.”

“If confirmed, those responsible must be held to account,” he tweeted, adding that he wished the Kremlin foe a “swift and full recovery.”

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said he was “deeply concerned” by reports on Navalny.