Politics

Putin critic falls ill after alleged poisoning

Victim of the poisoning, Alexei Navalny; a critic of Putin.
Alexei Navalny (Source: Michał Siergiejevicz, via. Flickr).
Vocal opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny has allegedly been poisoned. He has been flown to Berlin for treatment.

By Dewi Morris | Political Editor

Vocal opponent to the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his party, Alexei Navalny was the victim of a suspected poisoning on August 20.

Navalny was taken seriously ill on his flight from Tomsk to Moscow. Having made an emergency landing in Omsk, Siberia, Navalny was rushed from the plane to an intensive care unit.

His doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, has confirmed that Navalny was posioned by an unknown agent and was in a coma.

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Ms Yarmysh, believed that he had been posioned by a substance mixed into his tea in the airport as this was the only thing he had consumed the morning of the flight.

Yarmysh also expressed that she believed the doctors at Omsk were withholding information. The doctors claimed that the diagnostic tests were being delayed, while she believes they had received the results.

Dr Vasilyeva requested Navalny should be transferred to a specialist poison control unit in Europe, however hospital doctors initially refused to share records of his condition.

On August 22 he was transferred to Berlin. The delay in transferring Navalny was criticised by many as a tactic employed by the Kremlin to reduce his chance of recovery. This delay would also reduce the chance of poison being detected by European doctors if Navalny had indeed been poisoned.

Navalny’s supporters believe the Kremlin was behind the alleged poisoning.

Omsk doctors denied that the politician had been poisoned and instead claimed his serious illness was due to a metabolic disorder and a subsequent drop in blood sugar.

However, Navalny’s own doctor since 2013, Dr Ashikmin, said Mr Navalny had no underlying health conditions and hads been in good health.  

Reports of Navalny screaming in agony as the plane made an emergency landing fail to match symptoms of low blood sugar according to the NHS.

Furthermore, Dr Murakhovsky, the chief physician at the Omsk hospital where Navalny was treated, reported traces of industrial chemicals on Navalny’s clothes and hands. He offered no further explanation.

The Russian politician remains in a stable but critical condition at a hospital in the German capital.


“The man Vladimir Putin fears most”

Alexei Navalny, 44, has become Russia’s most prominent opposition leader. He has been a persistent and influential voice for anti-Kremlin politics and against government corruption, establishing the Anti-Corruption Foundation In 2011.

In 2012, The Wall Street Journal described Navalny as “The man Vladimir Putin fears most.”

Navalny bought shares in oil companies and banks linked with the Russian government in order to expose corruption and question their leadership.

He accused Putin’s party, United Russia, of being ‘a party of crooks and thieves’ and has vowed to destroy the ‘feudal state’ being built in Russia.

However, Navalny has not escaped criticism from liberals himself after being kicked out of the Yabloko party in 2007, for attending an annual anti-Putin march which attracts many from the far right.

Navalny’s Russian nationalism has also caused controversy with his populist comments on immigration and on Crimea, which he claims ‘is ours.’ Navalny does not condemn Russia’s annexation of the disputed Ukrainian territory.

The prominent opposition leader to Putin has led protests against the Kremlin and has faced numerous legal charges.

In 2013, he entered the Mayoral election for Moscow, claiming 27% of the vote and coming second behind Putin-endorsed Sergei Sobyanin. The result was considered a staggering success for Navalny who lacked any support from state media and was unable to be in Moscow for the duration of the campaign because of legal accusations.

However, Navalny and his supporters claim the election was rigged. Electoral monitors have consistently reported violations in Russian elections that would question their integrity.

Navalny was later imprisoned in 2013 for embezzlement. He denies these charges and the sentencing was widely believed to be political.

In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights deemed that Navalny was not given a fair trial. He was convicted a second time by Russian courts shortly after, on retrial.

Navalny believes this was a political move to stop him from entering the 2018 presidential election and challenging Putin. Navalny was barred from campaigning due to these charges.


A repeating pattern

Tactics deployed against Putin oppositions, allegedly rigged elections and the recent constitutional changes seen by many as a ‘power grab’ by Putin paints a dark picture for democracy in Russia today.

Navalny has faced attacks in the past including being blinded in one eye following an acid attack. Reports suggest Navalny had been under police surveilece prior to the alleged poisioning.

Navalny is also only the latest in a succession of opposition leaders to have fallen critically ill in alleged poisoning attacks.

Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal, Pyotr Verzilov are all prominent critics of Putin who have been allegedly poisoned by the Kremlin since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.

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