Navalny’s doctors refuse to let Putin critic leave Russian hospital

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is too unwell to be moved from a hospital in Siberia, according to the head doctor responsible for his treatment, following the suspected poisoning of the Kremlin critic.

The 44-year-old is in a coma after falling ill during a flight to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday. Allies of Navalny have claimed something was put in his tea at an airport cafe.

A German air ambulance thought to have been sent to collect Navalny landed in the Siberian city of Omsk on Friday morning, Reuters reported, citing flight tracking data.

Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor treating Navalny, said on Friday that the politician’s health condition had improved a little but attempting to move him would pose a threat to his life. Murakhovsky declined to comment on speculation Navalny had been poisoned. 

Anatoly Kalinichenko, the deputy doctor responsible for Navalny’s treatment, said during a briefing shortly thereafter that no traces of poison had been detected.

A full diagnosis of Navalny’s condition had been determined, Kalinichenko said, but he could not yet disclose the details.

Alexander Murakhovsky, chief doctor at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 where Alexei Navalny was admitted after he fell ill in what his spokeswoman said was a suspected poisoning, speaks to the media in Omsk on August 21, 2020.

DIMITAR DILKOFF | AFP via Getty Images

Navalny’s allies have accused Russian authorities of trying to block his medical evacuation, saying “every hour” of delay represents a “critical threat to his life.”

“The ban on the transportation of Navalny is only needed to stall for time and wait until the poison in his body can no longer be traced,” Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, said via Twitter on Friday, according to a translation.

Yarmysh said doctors at the hospital were initially willing to authorize the transportation of Navalny until very recently. “This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin,” she said.

The Kremlin on Thursday said medical authorities would swiftly consider any request for Navalny to be moved to a European clinic.

Rights groups call for investigation

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a joint press briefing on Thursday that they were both prepared to offer medical assistance to Navalny.

Merkel called for the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s hospitalization to be “cleared up very quickly,” while Macron said he was “extremely worried and saddened” by the news.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that the government would investigate if tests concluded Navalny had been poisoned, the state-run TASS news agency reported. When asked whether the situation was a special case given Navalny is a vociferous critic of Putin, Peskov replied: “The current government has many critics.”

Human rights groups have denounced the alleged poisoning of the most prominent member of Russia’s opposition and called for an immediate and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the hospitalization. 

“We are deeply concerned for the health of Mr. Navalny, and wish him a speedy recovery,” Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, said in a statement on Thursday.

A file photo dated September 29, 2019 shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a rally in support of political prisoners in Prospekt Sakharova Street in Moscow, Russia. Alexei Navalny is unconscious in hospital after allegedly being poisoned according to his press secretary.

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the alleged poisoning as “undeniably similar to incidents involving other hardline critics of the Russian authorities,” including the politician Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. and Pussy Riot punk band producer Pyotr Verzilov.

“Navalny himself became seriously ill previously during his administrative arrest a year ago. None of these incidents were investigated,” the group added.

In July last year, Navalny was hospitalized from a detention center, where he was held on administrative arrest after organizing peaceful demonstrations. Authorities said Navalny had suffered an allergic reaction, although the politician himself believes he was poisoned. 

Navalny, like many other lawmakers in Russia, has frequently been detained by authorities and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men as they threw anti-septic in his face, damaging one eye.

A staunch critic of Putin, Navalny had campaigned to challenge the long-time leader in the 2018 presidential election, but he was blocked from standing for office.

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