Alexei Navalny in stable condition in Berlin hospital

Anti-corruption activist’s supporters believe he drank tea laced with a poison

 Jaka Bizilj  speaks to media  in front of Berlin’s Charité university hospital where Alexei Navalny is being treated. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/ EPA

Jaka Bizilj speaks to media in front of Berlin’s Charité university hospital where Alexei Navalny is being treated. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/ EPA

 

Russian anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny is said to be in a critical but stable condition at a Berlin hospital, after his arrival in the German capital on Saturday for medical treatment.

The 44-year-old politician and dissident had been on a tour of Siberia and was on a return flight to Moscow on Thursday when he fell ill.

The flight was diverted to the city of Omsk where he was rushed to a local hospital. After a lengthy standoff with local hospital staff, Navalny’s family flew him – in an induced coma – on a private jet for treatment at Berlin’s Charité university hospital.

On Sunday evening his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who flew with him to Berlin, and her supporters cancelled a planned YouTube briefing to discuss “everything we know so far about Alexei’s poisoning”.

His supporters believe he unwittingly drank tea laced with a poison that disappears from the system after two days.

Russian doctors suggested the long-time opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin was suffering from a metabolic disease possibly caused by low blood sugar.

Later, health officials suggested an industrial chemical used in polymers had been found on his skin and hair.

Jaka Bizilj, an activist and friend who organised the private jet to Berlin, said efforts to do so had been “more complex than we thought”.

“It was a small Siberian odyssey and we didn’t sleep for two days,” said Mr Bizilj, chairman of the Cinema for Peace foundation. “But the crew had a clear instruction from me: no return flight without the patient.”

He said Mr Navalny’s situation was “very worrying” and that his personal doctor was not allowed to see him during his time in a Russian hospital.

The Kremlin has denied the delay in transferring the activist to Germany was political and said it was purely a medical decision.

Russian security officers

According to a Russian newspaper, Mr Navalny was being shadowed on his Siberian trip by plainclothes Russian security service officers and monitored via security cameras. The tabloid newspaper said the lawyer didn’t sleep in a room booked under his name but in an apartment rented by one of his supporters.

The Navalny family press spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter that “the scale of the surveillance does not surprise me at all, we were perfectly aware of it before”.

“What is surprising, however, is that [the security service sources] did not shy away from describing it,” she added.

The security sources told the Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid that their surveillance of Navalny’s movements did not show any suspicious contacts that could be linked to his undefined illness. They say that, if he was poisoned, then it was either at the airport or on the plane.

According to Reuters, the first Russian laboratory test results are due on Monday from places Navalny visited on his trip.

Berlin’s Charité hospital has a history of treating poisoned Russian dissidents.

In 2018 opposition activist Pyotr Verzilov, an associate of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, was treated for a suspected poisoning in the Berlin clinic.