Russia’s best-known anti-Kremlin opposition leader Alexey Navalny is in a coma in intensive care after being allegedly poisoned with a toxin slipped into his tea, according to his press secretary.
His press secretary Kira Yarmysh wrote that Navalny fell sick while on a plane returning from Siberia to Minsk on Thursday morning and that the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk where he was rushed to hospital. Navalny is unconscious in a coma and connected to a ventilator, Yarmysh wrote in a series of tweets, saying his condition is “serious.”
“We assume that Alexey was poisoned with something mixed in tea. It was the only thing that he drank since the morning. The doctors say that the toxin was quicker absorbed by hot liquid,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. She said they had called the police and that Navalny’s personal doctor is with him.
The hospital in Omsk confirmed to the state news agency TASS that Navalny is in its toxicology intensive care unit and its chief doctor said he condition was serious but “stable.”
Navalny, 44, is Russia’s most prominent opposition leader who has sought to challenge President Vladimir Putin through anti-corruption investigations and building a grassroots protest movement. His investigations, normally published as videos, have exposed alleged corruption among top Russian officials, including some of members of Putin’s inner circle, attracting millions of views. In recent years, his organization has helped direct some of the largest protests against Putin in Moscow.
Yarmysh wrote she was concerned that doctors at the hospital now were facing pressure from authorities, writing that the ward was now full of police officers and that a doctor had left privately to speak with them.
At a news conference, the hospital’s chief doctor told local media that he could not confirm at the moment that Navalny had been poisoned, saying there was “no certainty” of that yet and that it could also be the result of “natural poisoning.”
Photos posted by Navalny’s companions showed the opposition leader smiling and looking well on the airport bus before take-off. Within a couple of hours, he was unconscious and in a serious condition.
Last year Navalny was hospitalized with what his team at the time said was poisoning, after he suffered severe inflammation of his face while serving a short jail sentence for protesting. At the time, authorities said he had suffered an “allergic reaction.”
A number of Kremlin opponents have fallen victim to violence over the years, also to suspected poisonings. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov, a former prime minister and one of the country’s best-known opposition figures was shot dead on a bridge in front of the Kremlin. There have been a series of high-profile poisoning incidents involving Kremlin critics recently, including Sergey Skripal, the former Russian double-agent who was poisoned with a nerve agent in the British town of Salisbury in 2018. Another prominent activist, Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of the pro-democracy group Open Russia, nearly died twice after suffering suspected poisoning in 2015 and again in 2017.
In 2018, Petr Verzilov, a member of the protest group Pussy Riot, in 2018 was flown to a hospital in Germany after suffering what doctors there said was a near-fatal poisoning with an unknown substance.
Navalny has been arrested and jailed dozens of times in the past decade and faced attacks and threats from pro-Kremlin activists. During one assault he almost lost his sight after green anti-septic was thrown in his face. He has become the best-known of Russia’s anti-Kremlin opposition leaders and his group has built up a national following. Last summer, when several opposition activists allied with Navalny were barred from running in Moscow’s local elections, it triggered weeks of protests, the largest and most persistent the Russian capital has seen in around a decade.