Aleksei Navalny Hospitalized in Russia in Suspected Poisoning

Aleksei Navalny Hospitalized in Russia in Suspected Poisoning

The prominent opposition leader was reported to be in “serious condition” in intensive care in Siberia after his flight to Moscow was forced to make an emergency landing.

A video posted on social media on Thursday showed Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, being wheeled to an ambulance in Omsk, Russia.
A video posted on social media on Thursday showed Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, being wheeled to an ambulance in Omsk, Russia.Credit…Sergei Chirikov/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Andrew Higgins and Yonette Joseph

  • Aug. 20, 2020Updated 4:43 a.m. ET

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, was on a ventilator in intensive care and unconscious in a Siberian hospital on Thursday after suffering symptoms of what his spokeswoman called poisoning.

A plane carrying Mr. Navalny, 44, a high-profile critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, made an emergency landing in Omsk while en route to Moscow after he started feeling unwell, the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter.

“We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed with his tea,” Ms. Yarmysh wrote. “That’s the only thing he drank this morning.” She later added that the police had been called to the hospital at “our request.”

A photograph shared on social media showed Mr. Navalny, who challenged Mr. Putin in the 2018 presidential election, drinking from a cup at the airport cafeteria in Tomsk, from where the flight originated.

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The head doctor at the hospital in Omsk, Alexander Murakhovsky, said that Mr. Navalny was in “serious condition,” according to the Russian news agency Tass. No further details were released, and the government had no immediate comment on Mr. Navalny’s condition.

Videos posted by Russian news outlets showed an unconscious Mr. Navalny being wheeled on a gurney to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac at the Omsk airport. In another video, shot inside the aircraft, the opposition leader can be heard moaning in pain.https://www.youtube.com/embed/PdQv_Iwx8Rw

Last year, Mr. Navalny was hospitalized with a “severe allergic reaction” in jail, which his doctor at the time suggested could have been the result of a poisoning, after he was detained for leading an unauthorized election protest.

He had been arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail for calling a rally to protest a decision by the election authorities to bar several opposition candidates from running for Moscow’s City Council.

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Mr. Navalny, a lawyer, anticorruption activist and vocal critic of Mr. Putin, was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul in 2017 by an unknown assailant who had pretended to shake his hand.

He said that a doctor had told him he lost 80 percent of the sight in one eye after suffering a chemical burn from the green liquid.

Mr. Navalny, center, is a vocal critic of President Vladimir V. Putin.
Mr. Navalny, center, is a vocal critic of President Vladimir V. Putin.Credit…Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

While there was no independent confirmation that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned before falling ill on Thursday, the Russian security services have been suspected of targeting a number of dissidents and others, including Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian double agent who was poisoned in England in 2018.

The Kremlin and its supporters have for years viewed Mr. Navalny as an enemy because of the investigations into graft by officials carried out by his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Unlike Mr. Putin, who for security reasons almost never uses the internet, Mr. Navalny has exploited social media to mobilize a large following.

Mr. Navalny appeals largely to younger Russians, particularly in larger cities like Moscow, but he has built up a network of offices across the country. Mr. Putin never mentions Mr. Navalny’s name in public and state-controlled news outlets generally ignore him and his work.

But while feigning indifference, the Kremlin has repeatedly tried to silence Mr. Navalny, jailing him, accusing him of money laundering and searching the homes and offices of his supporters.

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The Russian Justice Ministry last October classified the Anti-Corruption Foundation as a “foreign agent,” a label frequently used by the Kremlin to stigmatize its critics as traitors.

The hospital in Omsk where Mr. Navalny was on a ventilator in intensive care.
The hospital in Omsk where Mr. Navalny was on a ventilator in intensive care.Credit…Alexey Malgavko/Reuters

Mr. Navalny, like many other Kremlin critics, has reveled in the recent unrest in neighboring Belarus and also in the Russian Far East, seeing a sudden burst of protests in those places as a sign that Moscow, too, will emerge from its long, enforced political slumber under Mr. Putin, now in power for more than two decades.

Mr. Putin recently engineered constitutional changes that remove term limits requiring him to step down in 2024 and allow him to rule potentially until 2036. Mr. Navalny denounced the changes, endorsed in a tightly controlled nationwide vote, as a constitutional coup.

Mr. Navalny announced plans to run against Mr. Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but the authorities blocked his candidacy by entangling him in a criminal case involving corruption charges widely seen as trumped up for political reasons.

Mr. Putin would almost certainly have won any election against Mr. Navalny but wanted to avoid a straight contest that would have forced him to acknowledge the existence of a rival with different ideas.

Each assault on Mr. Navalny’s person and reputation, however, has only reaffirmed his position as the country’s best-known opposition leader and stirred sympathy for him even among those who do not trust or like him.

Andrew Higgins reported from Moscow, and Yonette Joseph from Hong Kong.Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s Main Opposition FigureA Putin Opponent Is Doused in Green. He Makes It Work.March 20, 2017Aleksei Navalny, Putin Foe, Is Hospitalized After ‘Allergic Reaction’ in Russian JailJuly 28, 2019Russians Are Angry, but Putin’s Foes Struggle to Seize the MomentMay 29, 2020

Andrew Higgins is the Moscow bureau chief. He was on the team awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting, and led a team that won the same prize in 1999 while he was Moscow bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. 

Yonette Joseph is the international news editor in Hong Kong. She was previously the London weekend editor and a breaking-news editor in New York, and worked for The Washington Post and The Miami Herald. 

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