Doctors allow Putin critic Alexei Navalny to fly to Germany for medical treatment

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

Russian doctors at the hospital where opposition politician Alexei Navalny lies in a coma after a suspected poisoning have agreed to allow him to be taken to a top German medical facility. Mr 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.

A plane with German specialists and equipment necessary to transfer Mr Navalny for treatment in Berlin landed at Omsk airport on Friday morning, but doctors at the Siberian hospital earlier said his condition was too unstable to transport him. But after German doctors examined Navalny and declared him fit to fly in the special medical plane, the Russian doctor said he would be granted permission.

A woman holds a picture of Navalny at a rally in support of opposition politician after his alleged poisoning. Credit: PA

The flight from the Siberian city of Omsk is scheduled for Saturday morning, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.Mr Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk on Thursday and was taken to hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk.

His supporters believe he was poisoned and that the Kremlin is behind it.

But on Friday one of the doctors treating him said there was no trace of poison found in Mr Navalny’s body. Deputy chief doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko at Omsk hospital said: “Poisoning as a diagnosis remains on the back burner, but we don’t believe that the patient suffered from poisoning.”

Alexander Murakhovsky, chief physician of the Omsk Ambulance Hospital No. 1, intensive care unit where Alexei Navalny was hospitalised. Credit: AP

Mr Navalny’s ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Friday that police found “a very dangerous substance” in Mr Navalny’s system, but officials refuse to disclose what it is.

Alexander Murakhovsky, chief doctor of the Omsk Ambulance Hospital No. 1 where the politician is being treated, said staff were still working on determining a diagnosis.

Dr Anastasiya Vasilyeva, who is treating Alexei Navalny, and his brother Oleg Navalny Credit: Evgeniy Sofiychuk/AP

Doctor 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.”

Earlier, a Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the resistance to the transfer was political. He said he wasn’t aware of any instructions to stop the transfer and that it was purely a medical decision.

“It may pose a threat to his health,” Mr Peskov said.

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.

Alexei Navalny's wife Yulia said she was not allowed to speak to German specialists. Credit: AP

Mr Navalny’s wife told reporters hospital staff and men she suspected were law enforcement agents did not allow her speak to the German specialists, who she said were brought into the facility in secrecy, through a back door.

“I was forcibly kicked out in a rude manner,” Yulia Navalnaya said, her voice shaking. “This is an appalling situation. They are not letting us take Alexei. We believe that clearly something is being hidden from us.”

Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, Navalny’s physician in Moscow, said that being on a plane with specialised 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.”

Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, posted pictures of what she said was a bathroom inside the hospital with squalid conditions, including walls with paint peeling off, rusting pipes, and a dirty floor and walls.

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia at a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in March 2020. Credit: AP

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.

Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Mr Navalny has been frequently detained by law enforcement and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups.

In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging an eye.

Police in Moscow detain a protester supporting Alexei Navalny Credit: Pavel Golovkin/AP

Last year, Mr Navalny was taken to a hospital from prison, where he was serving a sentence following an administrative arrest, with what his team said was suspected poisoning.

Doctors said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.

Mr Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level.

Last month, he had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.

One of his associates in Khabarovsk, a city in Russia’s Far East that has been engulfed in mass protests against the arrest of the region’s governor, was detained last week after calling for a strike at a rally.