Russian Opposition Leader Navalny was Poisoned, German Hospital Says

Police officers stand guard at the entrance of Charite Mitte Hospital Complex where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is expected to be treated after being brought from Russia, in Berlin, Germany August 22, 2020. (Christian Mang/Reuters)

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned, according to a statement released Monday by the German hospital where he is being treated.

Berlin’s Charité hospital said that Navalny was suffering from “intoxication by a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors,” contradicting Russian doctors who said there was no evidence he had been poisoned. While it was not immediately clear exactly what substance was used to poison the Kremlin critic, the hospital said the effect of the toxin, which blocks cholinesterase, an enzyme needed for the proper functioning of the nervous system, was confirmed several times by independent labs. 

Navalny is in a medically induced coma, but “there is no acute danger to his life,” the hospital said, adding that he is being treated with atropine, a medication used to treat some nerve agent and pesticide poisonings. 

“Longer-term effects, especially in the area of the nervous system, cannot be ruled out,” the statement said.

While patients tend to respond positively to immediate treatment after poisoning, delays can lead to poorer outcomes, according to the National Institutes of Health. Navalny, 44, showed signs of poisoning on Thursday during a flight to Moscow from Siberia. He spent two days in a hospital in Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing. 

Omsk doctors said there was no sign Navalny had been poisoned, suggesting his condition could be due to a sharp drop in blood sugar. 

“The poisoning diagnosis was one of the first to be suggested, including by paramedics,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, the deputy chief physician of Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, told reporters Monday. “This is why the patient was taken to the toxicology department. If we had found any confirmation of poisoning, things would have been much easier for us.”

“We received definitive answers from two laboratories, which said they did not detect any chemical or toxic substances they could describe as poisons or poisoning products,” Kalinichenko said.

After Navalny’s family pushed to have him moved to another hospital, doctors approved his release on Friday, allowing him to be flown to Germany on Saturday morning. 

Navalny remains under the protection of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office while in the Berlin hospital, which provides security for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other government officials. 

“It was clear after his arrival that security measures had to be put in place because we are dealing with a patient who was likely the target of a poison attack,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert, who added that other Kremlin critics have been poisoned in the past few years.

Western intelligence officials have tied Russian agents to other state-ordered poisonings, including the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter in Britain two years ago. A different cholinesterase inhibitor, the deadly Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok was used in that attack. 

“Given Mr. Navalny’s prominent role in Russia’s political opposition, the authorities there are now urgently called upon to clarify this act to its fullest, and with complete transparency,” Merkel and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a joint statement. “Those responsible must be investigated and held to account.”

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