Updated: August 21, 2020 1:33:33 am
With Russia’s most prominent opposition leader Aleksei A Navalny in ICU over a suspected case of poisoning, world leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, have offered “assistance” to Navalny, but refused to comment on speculations into the circumstances leading to his hospitalisation.
On Thursday, Navalny, 44, was put on ventilator support in a Siberian hospital after he consumed a cup of tea suspected to be poisoned. Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter that while returning to Moscow by air, he felt unwell, as a result of which the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk. She added that Navalny has toxic poisoning.
France offers help
French President Emmanuel Macron has said France is ready to offer Navalny “all necessary assistance”, AP reported.
Macron told reporters Thursday “We are extremely worried and saddened” by what happened to Navalny, and that France offered the opposition leader and his family help with medical care or other unspecified protection. The President, however, insisted on the need to clarify what happened.
Germany will insist on transparency: Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a joint news conference with Macron, said Germany will also insist on transparency regarding Navalny’s illness and expressed support for him.
“Obviously Germany will let him have all the medical help that is needed also in German hospitals,” Merkel said. “But that must of course be a wish expressed from there.”
“What is also very important is that it will be clarified very urgently how it could come to the situation,” Merkel added.
Navalny has been at the forefront of demonstrations against the Putin administration, especially after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a vocal critic of Putin.
The 44-year-old opposition leader gained prominence in Russian politics after his blog became a popular voice of dissent post 2008. The blog continues to be his most preferred medium to reach out to the public. The political activist has been arrested multiple times by Russian authorities on charges of embezzlement and fraud, an accusation that Navalny has repeatedly denied.
The critic of Russia’s President felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia, and was taken to a hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Navalny’s spokeswoman Yarmysh said. She told the Echo Moskvy radio station that he must have consumed something in the tea he drank at an airport cafe before boarding the plane early Thursday. During the flight, Navalny started sweating and asked her to talk to him so that he could “focus on the sound of a voice.”
He then went to the bathroom and lost consciousness, and has been in a coma in grave condition ever since.
Allegations of Kremlin involvement
Opposition figures were quick to suggest Kremlin involvement in the suspected poisoning of Navalny.
Doctors at the Omsk ambulance hospital, where the politician is being treated, remain tight-lipped about his diagnosis and only said they were considering a variety of theories, including poisoning. According to AP, Navalny’s wife Yulia arrived at the hospital in the afternoon, but medial workers would not let her see her husband because she did not have their marriage certificate and the patient did not consent.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday said it was necessary to wait for the test results showing what caused Navalny’s condition, adding the authorities would consider a request to allow Navalny to leave Russia, which has not fully opened its borders after a coronavirus lockdown, for treatment.
However, doctors at the Omsk hospital refused to give medical documents necessary for a transfer to Navalny’s wife and allies, Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union, who also flew to Omsk on Thursday, said in a tweet.
State news agency Tass reported that police were not considering deliberate poisoning, a statement the politician’s allies dismissed as a propaganda ploy.
Other alleged poisonings by Russia
Sergei Skripal: On March 4, 2018, former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a bench in the British city of Salisbury after they were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent Novichok. Both of them have since recovered, including police officer Nick Bailey, one of the first responders who fell seriously ill after being exposed to the nerve agent.
The only person killed from the exposure was a 44-year-old woman who died a few months later, when she came into contact with the nerve agent. The woman was exposed to it from a counterfeit perfume bottle that had been discarded in Salisbury.
Pyotr Verzilov: A few months after Skripal, an anti-Kremlin activist and Putin critic, who is a member of the Russian protest group called Pussy Riot, was taken ill after a poisoning attempt that Verzilov alleged was carried out by Russian intelligence services. After he fell ill in September 2018, he was evacuated to Berlin from Moscow, where doctors confirmed that his symptoms were consistent with poisoning.
Vladimir Kara-Murza: In 2017, Putin critic and journalist Kara-Murza fell into a coma after a suspected poisoning attempt. In 2015, Kara-Murza nearly died and suffered sudden kidney failure after another alleged poisoning attempt. According to a report in The New York Times, after the 2015 attempt, a French lab found elevated levels of heavy metals in his blood. Kara-Murza has recovered since then and resides in Moscow.
(With inputs from AP)
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