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Hospitalized Kremlin Critic Aleksei Navalny Begins Treatment In Germany

Paramedics load a stretcher into an ambulance that is believed to have transported Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to the Charite -- Universitatsmedizin hospital in Berlin on August 22, 2020.
Paramedics load a stretcher into an ambulance that is believed to have transported Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to the Charite -- Universitatsmedizin hospital in Berlin on August 22, 2020.

Comatose Russian opposition activist-blogger Aleksei Navalny safely arrived in Berlin for medical treatment on August 22, after spending two days in a Siberian hospital where he became the focus of a bitter national debate over whether or not he had been poisoned by Russia’s secret services or his political opponents.

A representative of the German capital’s Charite-Universitatsmedizin, one of Europe’s largest university hospitals, told the Russian news agency Interfax that hospital staff are currently running “a broad range of diagnostic tests” on the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist.

"The examinations will take some time. Therefore, we ask for your patience,” the unidentified person said. “We will let you know as soon as we have information."

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted on August 22 that his condition had not changed during the flight – a factor that doctors in Russia earlier cited to justify initially denying his medical evacuation. A team of German doctors and Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, accompanied the activist to Berlin.

The roughly seven-plus hour flight westward from Omsk on a Bombardier Challenger 604 business jet was organized by the Berlin-based Cinema Peace Foundation, at the request of Russian publisher Pyotr Verzilov, whom the non-profit organization also transported to Charite Universitatsmedizin in 2018 with a suspected case of poisoning, The Guardian reported.

Ironically for an individual who has spearheaded in-depth corruption investigations targeting senior members of the Russian government, journalists from the state broadcaster Rossia-1, along with a cameraman, were allowed onto the Omsk runway for the plane’s takeoff, according to Yarmysh.

Since his collapse on an August 20 S7 airlines flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow, Navalny’s associates and family have insisted that he was the target of a poisoning attempt, intended to remove him from Russian politics. Russia faces parliamentary by-elections and regional elections on September 13, and Navalny had been working in Tomsk to rally opposition to the government.

A council of doctors in the Siberian city of Omsk, where he had been taken after his flight made an emergency landing, initially rejected as too risky his medical evacuation from Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 to a non-Russian hospital, where his team believed he would be safer.

Permission for that evacuation came only after expressions of concern about the activist’s situation from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

The European Court for Human Rights announced on August 21 that it was preparing to decide on a request for it to urge the Russian government to allow Navalny to leave Russia for medical treatment in Germany.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, also had written an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin does not yet appear to have commented publicly on the evacuation. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier expressed a desire for Navalny’s speedy recovery, “as for any citizen.”

An unidentified representative of the German Cabinet of Ministers remarked to Russia’s state-run TASS news agency that the German government “hopes that treatment in Charite will lead to an improvement in his condition and will allow him to recover completely.”

After the highly publicized struggle over Navalny’s medical evacuation, Russian health officials now emphasize Omsk physicians’ willingness to assist the family and doctors at the Charite hospital with “any information or help.”

The evacuation team accompanying Navlany had been given “a detailed list of his test results,” TASS reported.

More of those came on August 22, when the Omsk regional Health Ministry again stated that no poisons had been detected in the activist’s latest samples.

“Already today, we can say for sure that sodium oxybutyrates (used for treating narcolepsy), barbiturates, strychnine, convulsive or synthetic poisons have not been found,” a statement from the regional Health Ministry reads.

Alcohol and caffeine were the only two substances found in Navalny’s urine, according to this data.

The medical significance of this was not immediately clear.

Citing anonymous sources, the mainstream Moskovsky Komsomolets daily earlier had reported that Navalny had drunk samogon – Russian moonshine – before his August 20 flight, but these reports have not been confirmed.

А friend of Navalny, political commentator Fyodor Krasheninnikov, scoffed at the allegation as another attempted smear by government-friendly Russian media. “Everyone who knows Aleksei even a little bit knows that he’s not a person who loves to drink samogon and dance the night away,” he said.

Doctors at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 have suggested that a “metabolic disorder” linked to low blood sugar could have caused Navalny to pass out on the August 20 flight to Moscow.

Unlike in Russia, where his wife, by law, had no say in medical treatment for the unconscious Navalny, the Charite hospital has stated that it will hold consultations with the activist’s family about how to proceed further.

For spokeswoman Yarmysh, expressing thanks to supporters on Twitter, Navalny’s arrival in Germany alone provides cause for hope.

“The struggle for the life and health of Aleksei is only beginning, and there is still a lot to go through, but now, at least, the first step has been taken,” she said.

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