Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is in a coma and on a ventilator in a hospital in Siberia after falling ill from suspected poisoning during a flight, according to his spokeswoman.
Kira Yarmysh said on Thursday that Navalny, 44, was flying from Siberia to Moscow after a work trip to Tomsk when his plane made an emergency landing after he fell ill.
He is in the intensive care unit for toxicology patients in Emergency Hospital No 1 in the Siberian city of Omsk, according to the TASS state news agency.
Doctors gave contradictory information about his condition, saying it had stabilised but also that there was still a threat to his life and they were working to save him.
“We think that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed in his tea. That was the only thing he drank in the morning,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.
“Doctors say the poison was quickly absorbed through the hot liquid.”
Navalny had drunk a cup of tea at a Tomsk airport cafe before boarding his flight, Yarmysh said.
The Interfax news agency quoted the cafe’s owners as saying they were checking CCTV cameras to try to establish what had happened.
Yarmysh told the Echo Moskvy radio station that Navalny was sweating on the plane and asked her to talk to him so that he could “focus on the sound of a voice”.
He then went to the toilet and lost consciousness.
“Alexei is still unconscious. He was put under ventilator. Police were called to the hospital on our demand,” said Yarmysh.
Anatoliy Kalinichenko, deputy chief doctor of the Omsk hospital of intensive care where Alexei Navalny is hospitalized speaks to the media in Omsk, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Russian opposition
Doctors gave contradictory information about Navalny’s condition
Passenger Pavel Lebedev posted on social media an account of what he saw.
“At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back. He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain.”
Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Omsk, said: “The poisoning version is one of several versions being considered. It’s not possible now to say what the reason was.”
Yarmysh said she believed the suspected poisoning was connected to this year’s regional election campaign.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov wished Navalny a speedy recovery, saying that any poisoning would need to be confirmed by laboratory tests.
He said the authorities would be ready to consider a request for Navalny to be treated abroad should one be made.
Navalny, known for his anti-corruption campaigns against top officials and outspoken criticism of President Vladimir Putin, has suffered physical attacks in the past.
Last year, Navalny was rushed to a hospital from prison where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning. Doctors said he had had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.
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He also endured chemical burns to his eye in 2017 when attackers threw green antiseptic at his face outside his office.
The charismatic lawyer and whistle-blower has been travelling the country to promote a tactical voting strategy to oppose pro-Putin candidates in more than 30 regional elections in September.
He has been the target of multiple criminal probes while his Anti-Corruption Foundation is regularly raided by police and investigators.
He has served numerous terms in police cells for organising protests.
Last month, the politician had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
An ambulance parked next to a building of a hospital intensive care unit where Alexei Navalny was hospitalized in Omsk, Russia, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is
Navalny is in the intensive care unit for toxicology patients in Emergency Hospital No 1 in Omsk [Evgeniy Sofiychuk/AP]
The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.
Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer with Navalny’s foundation, said the team is requesting Russia’s Investigative Committee open a criminal probe.
“There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned because of his political stance and activity,” Gimadi said in a tweet on Thursday.
Former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul tweeted: “Praying @navalny will be ok.”