Mirror Online: LONDON, England – Prominent Vladimir Putin foe Alexei Navalny is in grave condition in a coma after he drank tea suspected to have been laced with poison, his spokeswoman says.
Navalny, 44, became unwell shortly after take-off on a flight to Moscow and was heard crying out in agony from the back of the plane in a disturbing video clip that was recorded by a fellow passenger.
Other clips show the lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner being carried off the plane, and motionless as he is stretchered to a waiting ambulance in the Siberian city of Omsk, where the aircraft made an emergency landing on Thursday.
The opposition politician was unconscious and is now on an artificial lung ventilator in a hospital’s intensive care unit, according to his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, who suspects poison was added to his tea.
The passenger who recorded the video that captured Navalny yowling had earlier posted a photo showing the Putin critic drinking tea at the Vienna Cafe at Tomsk Airport before the early morning flight to Moscow with the Russian airline S7.
The manager of the airport cafe said the staff member who served the opposition leader could not be located.
The cafe had closed and an investigation was underway, and the cafe’s owners said they were checking CCTV cameras to try to establish what had happened.
Yarmysh said: “Alexei is still on an artificial lung ventilator. He is in a coma in a grave condition.
“There are no test or analysis results yet.”
Yarmysh tweeted from his ambulance: “We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into the tea.
“It was the only thing that he drank in the morning.
“Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid. Alexei is now unconscious.”
She did not say who she believed may have poisoned Navalny, but said police had been called to the hospital.
However, one of the doctors there said it was not certain that he had been poisoned. Doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko said “natural poisoning” was one of several diagnoses being considered and tests were being carried out.
The press secretary told local media that after the plane took off from Tomsk, Navalny “said that he was feeling unwell and asked me for a napkin, he was sweating.
“He asked me to speak to him because he needed to concentrate on the sound of the voice.
“I was talking to him, then they brought a trolley with water.
“I asked if water would help, he said no.
Tomsk blogger Pavel Lebedev posted the image of Navalny drinking tea and the video which captured the moment the Putin critic was heard crying out.
Lebedev said: “I was flying with Alexei Navalny to Moscow. At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back. He started feeling really sick.
“They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain.”
He added: “They landed us in Omsk, an ambulance came.”
It was later reported that Navalny was in intensive care and had regained consciousness, but was “struggling to speak”.
Alexander Murakhovsky, the chief doctor treating Navalny, assessed his condition as “grave”.
Separately, TVK, citing the regional health ministry in Omsk, reported that he remained unconscious. This contradicted reports that he had come round.
Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry, said: “We confirm that Alexei Navalny has been hospitalised in Omsk and that doctors assess his condition as serious. Doctors are doing everything possible to stabilise his condition.
“The poisoning version is one of several versions being considered. It’s not possible now to say what the reason was.”
The S7 airline said Navalny had started feeling very ill soon after take-off and the captain had decided to make an emergency landing at a nearby airport.
He had not eaten or drunk anything on board, it said.
Navalny coordinator in Tomsk, Kseniya Fadeeva, told Open Media: “He was completely fine before he drank tea at Tomsk airport.”
Yarmysh added: “A year ago, when Alexei was in a detention centre, he was poisoned. Obviously, now they’ve done the same thing to him again.”
This was in reference to July 2019, during one of Navalny’s stints in prison, he fell ill, with suggestion he had been poisoned.
Prison staff reportedly told his wife an ambulance had rushed him to hospital with what was suspected to be a “strong allergic reaction”.
His eyes and face were said to have swelled up and turned red.
At the time, Yarmysh said she suspected a chemical spray had been put in his cell.
One doctor said it could have resulted from poisoning with an unknown chemical.
Navalny is seen as Russian President Putin’s most charismatic and potentially dangerous foe.
He has been physically attacked in the streets by pro-government activists, faced constant legal attacks and has served a number of prison sentences for organising anti-Kremlin protests.
He has helped investigations into what he has said are outrageous examples of official corruption, and his anti-corruption organisation was dubbed a ‘foreign agent’ by the Russian authorities.
Police have conducted repeated raids on his offices.
Russia holds regional elections next month and Navalny and his allies have been preparing for them, trying to increase support for candidates which they back.
Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko has blamed Navalny for fermenting the protests in his country, but without providing proof.
In one recent expose, Navalny claimed Putin’s ecology chief Svetlana Radionova was linked to a luxury property deal and that her wealth could not be explained.
Navalny has vowed his aim is to topple Putin and replace him as president.
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Russia’s arrests and detention of Navalny in 2012 and 2014 were politically motivated and violated his human rights, a ruling Moscow called questionable.
Navalny has spent the last few days in Siberia, initially in Novosibirsk, where he was reportedly collecting material for an investigation, before heading to Tomsk.
- Top Feature Photo REUTERS: