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Trump adviser expresses concern over suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Navalny

President Donald J. Trump, and White House National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, prior to boarding Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport, Sept. 18, 2019. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

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

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on August 20 the suspected poisoning of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny was “extraordinarily concerning” and could have an impact on U.S.-Russia relations.

O’Brien’s comments came as Navalny fights for his life in a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk as efforts to evacuate him to Germany are under way.

“He’s a very courageous man. He is a very courageous politician to have stood up to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin inside Russia, and our thoughts and our prayers are with him and his family,” O’Brien said in an interview on Fox News.

“It’s extraordinarily concerning and if the Russians were behind this…it’s something that we’re going to factor into how we deal with the Russians going forward,” he said.

Navalny, who is in a coma, is in serious, yet stable condition as medics work to “save his life,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, a doctor at the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, said.

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is on a ventilator and in grave condition in an intensive care, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted.

Navalny became ill on August 20 while on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, forcing the aircraft to make an unscheduled landing in Omsk, also in Siberia, where he was transported by ambulance to a hospital.

Yarmysh said she believed the politician was poisoned when he drank tea he had bought at the Tomsk airport.

However, Kalinichenko 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 are being considered as tests are carried out.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny could get medical treatment in Germany if it is requested.

“I hope he recovers quickly, and if asked to we will provide him with medical assistance, including German hospitals, but the request has to come from there,” she said.

Navalny supporters have received permission for him to be treated at Berlin’s Charite hospital, film producer and human rights activist Jaka Bizilj told dpa.

An ambulance aircraft with a team specialized in treating coma patients is ready to leave Germany to pick Navalny up at midnight, Bizilj said.

Yarmysh said the Russian health authorities had yet to grant permission for Navalny to be transported.

Navalny’s physician, Yaroslav Ashikhmin, told Meduza that he “needs to be evacuated to Europe” for treatment, adding: “We’re trying to reach an agreement with a hospital in Hanover or Strasbourg to take him.”

Ashikhmin said that Western clinics have more chance of finding the substance that may have caused the alleged poisoning.

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

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russian law enforcement would launch an investigation if poisoning is confirmed.

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

The cafe where Navalny bought the tea was in an area beyond 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.

Navalny, who has exposed rampant corruption in Russia, 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 to a hospital with severe swelling of the face and a rash, and later alleged he was poisoned.

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

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