MOSCOW - Russian dissident Alexei Navalny is being treated at Berlin’s renowned Charite Hospital for suspected poisoning, after he was transported from the Siberian city of Omsk to Germany on Saturday.
The Russian opposition leader is currently in a coma and breathing through a ventilator.
Charite said in a short statement that it had admitted Navalny and was carrying out an "extensive medical diagnosis." The hospital has not given any details about Navalny’s condition.
Jaka Bizilj, founder of the Cinema for Peace that facilitated the evacuation of Navalny to Germany in a chartered medical plane, said his condition was stable.
"The good news is that he's stable, so the whole travel did not affect him," Bizilj said. "But there is no reason to celebrate, because he is in a very critical condition. So, the real work starts now with the doctors at the Charite," he said.
Family and associates of Navalny believe he was poisoned with a cup of tea at an airport where he was to board a plane to Moscow, and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian doctors, however, said tests showed no trace of poison.
Initially, Russian doctors refused to permit Navalny’s evacuation, maintaining it was too dangerous to move him, but later acquiesced to demands to allow his medical treatment in Germany.
That came after Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, issued a public appeal online to Putin to facilitate the move.
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 coverup.
“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 spokesperson, 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.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden weighed in, saying Navalny’s “coma after being poisoned” was “unacceptable.”
Donald Trump continues to cozy up to Russia while Putin persecutes civil society and journalists.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 21, 2020
Now, opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a coma after being poisoned. It's unacceptable.
Unlike Trump, I'll defend our democratic values and stand up to autocrats like Putin. https://t.co/OLjoGDaG4f
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 spokeswoman Rebecca Ross in a tweet.
Before Friday’s decision to allow treatment in Germany, Kremlin spokesperson 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.