Russian doctors gave a dissident who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning permission to be transferred abroad for medical treatment, in a sudden reversal Friday that came after more than 24 hours of wrangling over Alexei Navalny’s condition and treatment.
Navalny, a 44-year-old politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, was admitted to an intensive care unit in the Siberian city of Omsk on Thursday. His supporters believe that tea he drank was laced with poison — and that the Kremlin is behind both his illness and the delay in transferring him to a top German hospital. It would not be the first time a prominent, outspoken Russian was targeted in such a way — or the first time the Kremlin was accused of being behind it.
Russian doctors say there is no evidence of poisoning, and the Kremlin denied the authorities tried to prevent the transfer from happening.
Even after German specialists arrived on a plane equipped with advanced medical equipment Friday morning at his family's behest, Navalny's physicians in Omsk said he was too unstable to move.
Navalny’s supporters denounced that as a ploy by authorities to stall until any poison in his system would no longer be traceable. The Omsk medical team relented only after a charity that had organized the medevac plane revealed that the German doctors examined the politician and said he was fit to be transported.
Deputy chief doctor of the Omsk hospital Anatoly Kalinichenko then told reporters that Navalny's condition had stabilized and that physicians “didn't mind” transferring the politician, given that his relatives were willing “to take on the risks.”
According to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, the flight to Berlin is scheduled for Saturday morning.
The Kremlin denied resistance to the transfer was political, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that it was purely a medical decision. However, the reversal came as international pressure on Russia's leadership mounted.
On Thursday, leaders of France and Germany said the two countries were ready to offer Navalny and his family any and all assistance and insisted on an investigation into what happened. On Friday, European Union spokeswoman Nabila Massrali added that the bloc was urging Russian authorities to allow him to be taken abroad.
Also on Friday, the European Court of Human Rights said it was considering a request from ‘supporters that it urge the Russian government to let the politician be moved.
The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election but was barred from running. Since then, he has been promoting opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of the ruling party, United Russia.
His Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level. But he had to shut the foundation last month after a financially devastating lawsuit from a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
Navalny fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday and was taken to the hospital after the plane made an emergency landing. His team made arrangements to transfer him to Charité, a clinic in Berlin that has a history of treating famous foreign leaders and dissidents.
Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, ‘physician in Moscow, told The Associated Press that being on a plane with specialized equipment, including a ventilator and a machine that can do the work of the heart and lungs, “can be even safer than staying in a hospital in Omsk.”
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