Has Alexei Navalny fallen foul of a ‘Putin poisoning’?
Russian opposition leader in Siberian hospital after falling ill on plane
Alexei Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is unconscious in intensive care today after a suspected poisoning.
“We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea,” said his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh. “It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid.”
Navalny “started feeling unwell while on a return flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk”, CNN reports. The plane made an emergency landing in nearby Omsk, where he fell into a coma.
Who is Alexei Navalny?
Navalny, 44, is “the face of grassroots opposition to the Kremlin and no stranger to threats”, says the Financial Times. As “Putin’s most popular challenger”, he has organised street protests and political campaigns against the governing party.
“He made a name for himself by exposing official corruption,” says the BBC, “labelling Mr Putin’s United Russia as ‘the party of crooks and thieves’, and has served several jail terms.”
He claims to have won more votes than his Putin-backed rival in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral elections, although the official results showed him a distant second.
In 2018, as leader of the Russia of the Future party, he was prevented from running against Putin for the presidency “because of previous fraud convictions in a case he said was politically motivated”, the BBC reports.
Has he really been poisoned?
While the cause is unclear, there is no doubt that Navalny is seriously ill.
“At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn’t come back,” according to one fellow passenger quoted by Reuters. “He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain.”
The BBC says a “disturbing video” posted on social media “appears to show a stricken Mr Navalny in pain on the flight”. In another clip, he is being taken by stretcher into an ambulance on arrival in Omsk.
“However,” says Reuters, “one of the doctors there said it was not certain that he had been poisoned.”
If foul play was confirmed, it would come as no surprise. “Other prominent Russian opposition activists have also been hospitalised after apparent poisonings in recent years,” says the Financial Times.
Two years ago, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with Novichok in Salisbury, allegedly by Russian military agents. And last year Navalny himself suffered an “acute allergic reaction” while in police custody.