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Berlin Doctors Confirm Poisoning Of Russian Opposition Activist Aleksei Navalny

Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny participates in a February 29, 2020 march in Moscow in honor of slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.
Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny participates in a February 29, 2020 march in Moscow in honor of slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov.

The Berlin hospital Charite-Universitatsmedizin has confirmed that the Russian opposition activist Aleksei Navalny was poisoned with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors, the hospital has announced.

In a joint statement with German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a thorough investigation into how Navalny was poisoned. "Those responsible must be identified and held accountable," Merkel said.

The Charite hospital’s physicians specified that Navalny, who is in an artificial coma, is not in a life-threatening situation, but refrained from predicting the likely future impact of the poisoning.

“Alexei Navalny’s prognosis remains unclear; the possibility of long-term effects, particularly those affecting the nervous system, cannot be excluded,” reads a statement the hospital released on August 24

Cholinesterase inhibitors affect the body’s neurotransmitters and are often used to treat Alzheimer’s disease. To counteract the poison’s effect, German physicians are currently giving Navalny the antidote atropine.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles pre-trial criminal investigations, has not yet responded to the Berlin hospital’s finding. Navalny’s colleagues filed a request on August 20, the day he collapsed on a flight to Moscow, to investigate the incident as a case of poisoning, but the Committee has not yet done so, the activist’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted.

А representative of the Investigative Committee’s Western Siberian division, which oversees both Omsk, the city where Navalny was initially treated, and Tomsk, where he boarded the flight, declined on August 24 to comment to Interfax about the request.

The Russian laboratories that handled tests on Navalny’s body samples from the Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 reported that no proof of poisoning was found. Medical staff stated that poisoning was a potential cause of his sudden illness, but eventually attributed the most likely cause to extreme low blood sugar, which can cause a loss of consciousness.

Now, these physicians, as well as the Kremlin, appear to find themselves on the defensive.

Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 deputy chief physician Anatoly Kalinichenko repeated on August 24 that poisoning was “one of the first” potential diagnoses, made also by paramedics. Navalny, he noted, had been treated in the hospital’s toxicology department.

“If we found poisoning, something confirmed, it would have been much easier for us. But we got the final answer from two laboratories that no chemical and toxicological substances that could be regarded as poisons or products of the action of poisons have been identified, " Kalinichenko said.

After a highly publicized struggle to transfer Navalny to a foreign hospital, he was evacuated by the non-profit Cinema Peace Foundation to Berlin’s Charite hospital on August 22, following statements of concern by the international community, including Merkel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, emphasized on August 24, however, that Putin had not discussed Navalny’s evacuation with any international leader or official.

"There is no reason for international negotiations here," Peskov said.

To enable Navalny's medical evacuation, he underlined, “our respective authorities did everything very quickly, very quickly.”

-With reporting from Interfax and Reuters