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The Charite hospital treating gravely ill Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny since he was medically airlifted to Germany two days earlier says that its tests indicate he was “poisoned.”
Navalny “is in an intensive-care unit and is still in an induced coma,” it said on August 24, adding that his health “is serious but there is currently no acute danger to his life.”
The staunch anti-corruption campaigner and critic of President Vladimir Putin fell ill on August 20 during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow.
The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors put him into an induced coma.
“The clinical findings indicate intoxication by a substance from the group of active substances called cholinesterase inhibitors,” a statement by the Charite hospital said.
Cholinesterase inhibitors, also known as anti-cholinesterase, are a broad range of chemicals that are found in several drugs but also in some pesticides and nerve agents.
That contradicts statements from Russian officials.
The Omsk regional Health Ministry said on August 22 that caffeine and alcohol were found in Navalny’s urine, but “no convulsive or synthetic poisons were detected.”
Interfax quoted Aleksandr Sabayev, the chief of toxicology at the Omsk hospital where Navany was treated, as saying after news of the German findings that “when Navalny was admitted for treatment, tests for an extensive range of narcotic and synthetic substances, psychedelics, and medicinal substances, including cholinesterase inhibitors, were conducted and the result was negative.”
Sabayev said the Kremlin foe did not display “a clinical pattern characteristic of a poisoning by cholinesterase inhibitors.”
Colleagues and supporters of Navalny have said he might have been poisoned when he drank tea purchased at the Tomsk airport.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on August 24 called on Moscow to fully investigate the suspected poisoning and hold those responsible accountable.
“In view of the prominent role of Mr. Navalny in the political opposition in Russia, the authorities there are now urgently called upon to investigate this act down to the last detail — and in full transparency,” she said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Those responsible “must be identified and held accountable,” the statement added.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell issued a similar statement, saying: “It is imperative that the Russian authorities initiate an independent and transparent investigation on the poisoning of Mr Navalny without delay.”
“The European Union strongly condemns what seems to be an attempt on Mr Navalny’s life,” he said, adding that “those responsible must be held to account.”
Earlier, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin that “protection is necessary” for Navalny because poisoning was suspected as “extensive” testing continued.
“The suspicion is…that somebody poisoned Mr. Navalny — that somebody seriously poisoned Mr. Navalny — which, unfortunately, there are some examples of in recent Russian history. So the world takes this suspicion very seriously,” Seibert said.
Dirk Wiese, the German government’s coordinator for Eastern European affairs, told public broadcaster ZDF that German police had been posted as guards outside of Navalny’s hospital room as a precaution.
“The circumstances of what led to Aleksei Navalny’s critical condition haven’t yet been clarified,” Wiese said.
Social-media posts on August 24 also showed police increasing their presence around the hospital.
Doctors at the hospital in Omsk initially refused to allow Navalny to be transferred to Germany, saying he was not in a fit state to be transported for treatment.
Navalny was flown via commercial air ambulance from Omsk to Berlin on August 22 after a day of insistence by Russian doctors that he was too ill to fly.
Navalny’s wife had suggested medical treatment in Germany for her husband — who had previously been attacked with a chemical that left permanent eye damage and had a bout of suspected poisoning in Russian custody in the past — would be more reliable, effective, and transparent.
Earlier on August 24, the head doctor of the Omsk hospital denied that medical personnel there had come under outside pressure from authorities.
“We treated the patient and we saved him. There was no interference in the treatment of the patient and there could not be any,” Aleksandr Murakhovsky, the head doctor at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, said on August 24.
“The patient had a personal doctor, all decisions were made in a collegial manner, and every consultation involved up to 10 doctors from various institutions,” Murakhovsky said.
When questioned about why law enforcement officers were present at the Omsk hospital, Murakhovsky said he could not say who it was and could not “say they were doing something.”
Navalny’s allies had accused doctors of holding up his medical evacuation to Germany.
According to a Russian newspaper report, Navalny had been under surveillance by Russian federal security agents during his recent trip to Siberia.
Officers with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) monitored Navalny’s movements, the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported, citing information from sources in Russian security agencies. The surveillance involved plainclothes officers and CCTV cameras, the newspaper said.
The European Union has demanded “a swift, independent, and transparent investigation” and justice in the suspected poisoning.
Navalny, who has exposed rampant corruption at the highest levels 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.