Comatose Russian Opposition Leader in Germany for Treatment
By Charles Maynes August 22, 2020
A plane carrying Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning, touched down Saturday morning in Berlin, where he will receive medical attention at Charité Clinic, the city's main hospital.
Russian doctors announced earlier they had acquiesced to demands to allow Navalny medical treatment in Germany – ending a standoff over who would administer care to the politician following what Navanly's family says was a deliberate attempt to poison him in Siberia earlier this week.
"The patient's condition is stable," Dr. Anatoly Kalinichenko of Hospital No. 1 in the city of Omsk, where Navalny has been in a medically induced coma and ventilator, said Friday.
"As we are in possession of a request from relatives to permit him to be transported, we have now taken the decision that we do not object to his transfer to another in-patient facility," he added.
Kalinichenko also said that "having received the request from relatives for transportation," Navalny's family would take "full responsibility."
The decision capped a day of seesawing as local Russian doctors initially concluded it was too dangerous to move Navalny only to change their minds amid public outcry.
That came after Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, issued a public appeal online to Russian President Vladimir Putin to facilitate the move.
Navalny's supporters also argued any delay in a medical evacuation put his survival at risk – and, perhaps, put off discovering what had felled the politician so suddenly.
A plane chartered by a German humanitarian organization with a history of evacuating mysteriously ill dissidents from Russia, Cinema for Peace, arrived in Omsk early Friday. Doctors who arrived on the flight believed Navalny was fit enough for travel, several hours before Russian physicians reached the same evaluation.
In a preliminary diagnosis Friday, Russian doctors in Omsk said a "metabolic disorder" tied to a low blood-sugar level had caused Navalny to suddenly lose consciousness aboard a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to his Moscow home early Thursday.
Other Russian health officials announced that traces of an industrial chemical had been found on his skin and hair.
Still others said that Navalny had been exposed to a dangerous substance that posed such a danger to others that moving him would require caution.
Navalny's associates have openly suggested foul play followed by a government-backed cover-up.
"What was the factor that influenced that this young and sporty man to this extent that he was nearly dead and had to be put in coma and on a ventilator … is still unclear," Leonid Volkov, the politician's chief strategist, said in a press conference in Berlin on Friday.
Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmys, who was traveling with the politician at the time of the incident, insists Navalny was poisoned when he drank some black tea at an airport cafe.
"I was with Alexey from the very start of the morning," she said. "I sat in the seat next to him on the plane, and have no shared symptoms with his poisoning."
The case has attracted International attention.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have expressed concern over Navalny's condition.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden weighed in, saying Navalny's "coma after being poisoned" was "unacceptable."
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow indicated it was monitoring the situation.
"If true, the suspected poisoning of Russian oppositionist Aleksey #Navalny represents a grave moment for Russia, and the Russian people deserve to see all those involved held to account. Our thoughts are with his family," said U.S. Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Ross in a tweet.
Navalny's supporters in Russia have arranged single-picket demonstrations in several cities. Authorities have detained temporarily many of them for violating a ban on protests during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before Friday's decision to allow treatment in Germany, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov indicated the government would help facilitate the move and wished Navalny a "speedy recovery."
Peskov said the government would investigate the incident should toxicology reports show Navalny had been poisoned.
Navalny has long been a problematic figure for the Kremlin, detailing corruption and excess at the highest levels of the government on his popular YouTube channel.
The channel's mix of investigative journalism and caustic humor has resonated with younger Russians in particular – a group Putin has struggled to court.
Navalny has made no secret of his political ambitions.
He launched a campaign for president to challenge Putin in 2018 that was undone by a lingering criminal conviction.
His supporters – and the European Court of Human Rights – agreed that the charges were levied to keep him out of the race.
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