This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The German hospital treating Aleksei Navalny says the Russian opposition leader’s condition “has improved” and he is “responding to verbal stimuli.”
Berlin’s Charite hospital said in a statement on September 7 that the 44-year-old has been “removed from his medically induced coma” and “is being weaned off mechanical ventilation.”
However, the hospital also said that it remains “too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning.”
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has led nationwide protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany on August 22, two days after falling ill on a flight in Siberia.
German experts say tests show that he was poisoned with a Soviet-style military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group, prompting the European Union, Germany, the United States, and other countries to demand that Russia investigate the case.
Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab on September 7 said he had summoned Russia’s ambassador to London to “register deep concern about the poisoning.”
“It’s completely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used and Russia must hold a full, transparent investigation,” Raab tweeted.
Russian authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation, saying that no hard evidence of poisoning has been found.
The Kremlin has also vehemently denied allegations by Navalny’s team, his relatives, and others who believe that Russian authorities are behind the poisoning.
On September 5, leading Russian physician Leonid Roshal, who in recent years has publicly supported Putin and his policies, said that Russia’s National Medical Chamber had called on Germany’s Physicians Chamber (Aerztekammer) to create a joint group to evaluate Navalny’s health.
The next day, Navalny’s wife slammed the 87-year-old Leonid Roshal as being little more than a stooge for the Russian leader.
Yulia Navalnaya wrote on Instagram that medical institutions in Russia consider patients their “property,” falsifying information they make public via the media while “deceiving relatives, not letting them see the patient and inventing rules at their own discretion, literally turning the hospital into an analogue of a Russian prison.”
“Dr. Roshal, I would like to say that my husband is not your property. You did not have, do not have, and will not have anything to do with his treatment. All your public activities in recent years give me no reason to trust and respect you. You are not acting as a doctor, but as the voice of the state, and you do not want to help a patient whom you do not care about, but to find out information and curry favor for your boss. Do not take sin on your soul, especially at such a respectable age,” Navalnaya wrote.
Germany has signaled that Berlin would push for new sanctions against Russia if Moscow fails to explain the poisoning of the Kremlin foe, including a possible shift in German policy regarding the nearly complete Baltic Sea pipeline known as Nord Stream 2, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany. Merkel has been under pressure from the United States and other Western countries to scrap the plan.
Asked on September 7 whether Chancellor Angela Merkel would protect the multi-billion-euro pipeline if Germany were to seek sanctions over the Navalny case, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”
Navalny’s close associate Lyubov Sobol told RFE/RL on September 4 that she believes that Navalny was poisoned either by Russia’s Federal Security Service or by Kremlin-connected powerful businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“Neither special services, nor Yevgeny Prigozhin could organize this poisoning without the direct order by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin,” Sobol said, though she did not provide any concrete evidence of a connection.
Sobol believes the Kremlin would want to poison Navalny because of his Smart Voting campaign that supports independent and opposition candidates in municipal elections later in September. She added that a wave of instability sparked by protests stretching from Belarus, on Russia’s western border, to the Far Eastern region of the Khabarovsk Krai, have also unsettled Russia’s leadership.