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Putin critic Navalny remains critical after German transfer

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

Prominent Russian anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, who has been in a coma since Thursday, remains in a “very critical” if stable condition since arriving in Germany for medical treatment after his suspected poisoning, according to an ally who helped organize his transfer.

“The good news is that he arrived in Berlin in a stable condition,” Jaka Bizilj, co-founder of the Cinema for Peace group that facilitated Navalny’s move to the city’s Charite hospital, said in a phone interview Saturday. Doctors at Germany’s biggest teaching hospital will need to try to help him and ascertain medical facts, said Bizilj.

Navalny was permitted by Russian authorities to leave the hospital in Omsk, Siberia, after his family, activists and international leaders appealed directly to President Vladimir Putin. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government said it hopes Navalny’s treatment in Berlin will lead to a complete recovery, according to the press office.

Manuela Zingl, a Charite spokeswoman, said by phone today that Navalny is already undergoing a “comprehensive diagnosis of his condition” and doctors would comment in time after speaking with his family. Navalny is “a strong man and went swimming the day before he fell ill,” said Bizijl, a Slovak film producer.

Navalny, 44, fell sick on a plane returning to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk on Thursday. He was in the city meeting local activists and opposition candidates ahead of regional elections in September, and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said he’d only had a cup of tea that day before the flight. The aircraft made an emergency landing in another Siberian city, Omsk, where he was put on a ventilator.

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During last two days there were conflicting reports about what could have caused his condition. Doctors at the Omsk hospital initially said they were investigating a possible poisoning but later said they found no evidence. His team also cited an unidentified police officer who told them that there was some toxin found. There was never official confirmation of a possible poisoning.

Omsk’s hospital chief medic Alexander Murakhovsky said that Navalny is suffering from a metabolic disorder. On Friday another doctor said tests showed no traces of toxins, according to a video posted by Yarmysh.

The case has drawn international attention. President Donald Trump said he’s looking into the situation, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a probe of the incident and French President Emmanuel Macron said he’s extremely concerned.

The Kremlin hasn’t done anything to hinder Navalny’s medical evacuation, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in response to reporters’ questions Friday that followed on accusations from Navalny’s supporters.

The ruble was among the weakest performers in emerging markets for a second day on Friday, breaching 75 versus the dollar for the first time in four months. While oil has weakened, domestic politics were also a factor in the move, Rosbank analyst Yury Tulinov said.

Navalny’s widely viewed exposes about corruption in Putin’s inner circle have made him countless enemies over the years. He has a huge following on social media, with 2.2 million subscribers on Twitter alone, and his YouTube channel regularly posts investigations that have embarrassed top allies of Putin, such as former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, for their lavish lifestyles.

Merkel, who discussed the situation with Macron on Thursday, said Germany will insist on finding out why the Kremlin critic collapsed into a coma. “We were shocked about the news of Navalny’s condition,” she said.

Macron said France is also ready to provide assistance to Navalny and his family “in terms of health, asylum and protection.”

SUDDEN ILLNESS

Navalny became Russia’s most prominent opposition activist during massive 2011-2012 protests against Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a third term following four years as prime minister.

His sudden illness has raised suspicions following a string of Kremlin critics who’ve been victims of poisoning, including dissident security service officer Alexander Litvinenko and ex-spy Sergei Skripal. U.K. officials link both attacks to the Russian state.

Activist Pyotr Verzilov, who led a pitch invasion during the 2018 soccer World Cup final game to protest Putin’s rule, was treated for what doctors said were symptoms of poisoning later that year. The chief coordinator for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia organization, Vladimir Kara-Murza, suffered acute kidney failure after being poisoned in 2015, later making a recovery after being flown to the U.S.

“No matter whether it’s an attempted murder or just scare tactics, poisonings are pretty much always somehow connected to the security services,” Tatiana Stanovaya, head of R. Politik, a political consultancy, said in a social media post.

Navalny has been repeatedly jailed and attacked for leading anti-Putin protests, including during the wave of unrest last year when opposition candidates were barred from contesting Moscow city council elections. Those protests were the largest in the capital since 2011.

He suffered chemical burns to his eye when a man threw green antiseptic liquid in his face in Moscow in 2017. He was briefly taken to hospital from detention during last year’s protests after suffering a major allergic reaction that he said could have been an attempt to poison him in prison.

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©2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.