The wife of the hospitalised Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appealed to President Vladimir Putin on Friday to allow a medical evacuation as German doctors rebutted claims he was too sick to be moved.
Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner who is among Putin’s fiercest critics, was in a coma in intensive care in the Siberian city of Omsk after he lost consciousness while on a flight and his plane made an emergency landing on Thursday.
Navalny’s aides say they believe he was poisoned and that something was put in his tea at an airport cafe, but doctors on Friday said “no trace” of any poison was found.
His supporters organised an air ambulance with specialists from a German clinic that arrived at Omsk airport on Friday and the medics examined him later in the day.
The German doctors said they were “able and willing” to fly him to Berlin’s Charite hospital, the Cinema For Peace foundation that organised the flight said.
Russian doctors however ruled he was too “unstable” to be moved.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, posted on Twitter a letter addressed to Putin, saying: “I officially apply to you with a demand for permission to take Alexei Navalny to Germany.”
The anti-graft campaigner’s team also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to ask the Russian government to allow his transfer.
Navalny is the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics who have fallen seriously ill or died in apparent poisonings.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there were “no obstacles” to evacuating Navalny and this was “purely a medical decision”.
The Omsk hospital’s chief doctor, Alexander Murakhovsky, said medics agreed Navalny could only be moved after “sustained stabilisation of his state”.
Tests had shown no trace of any poison and suggested Navalny lost consciousness due to a fall in blood sugar, Murakhovsky said.
“We didn’t find any poisonous substances,” he said, giving a preliminary diagnosis of a “metabolic disorder”.
Navalny’s wife said guards and plain-clothed officers blocked her way as she attempted to speak to the German doctors.
“This situation is outrageous,” she told journalists, breathing hard.
She said she wanted Navalny treated “in an independent hospital, whose doctors we trust”.
– ‘Play for time’ –
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh claimed Russia’s refusal to evacuate Navalny was a ploy to “play for time” and make it impossible to trace poison, posing a “critical threat to his life”.
Regional police said they found traces of an industrial chemical after swabbing Navalny and his luggage, while suggesting it came from a disposable cup.
The air ambulance dispatched to take Navalny to Berlin for treatment landed in Omsk after Chancellor Angela Merkel extended an offer of treatment.
European Union leaders including Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have voiced concern for Navalny, who has faced repeated physical attacks and prosecutions in more than a decade of opposition to Russian authorities.
The EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, Nabila Massrali, said: “The Russian authorities are well aware we are closely watching this,” urging “his safe transfer and treatment”.
The US embassy in Moscow said in a tweet that if the poisoning claim proved true it would represent “a grave moment for Russia, and the Russian people deserve to see all those involved held to account”.
Navalny lost consciousness shortly after his plane took off on Thursday from Tomsk in Siberia, where he was working to support opposition candidates ahead of regional elections next month.
Yarmysh said he had seemed “absolutely fine” before boarding the flight and had only consumed a cup of tea at the airport.
She said she was sure he had suffered from an “intentional poisoning” and blamed Putin.
Navalny has made many enemies with his anti-corruption investigations, which often reveal the lavish lifestyles of Russia’s elite and attract millions of views online.
– Previous poisonings –
He has suffered physical attacks in the past, including a 2017 incident where he endured chemical burns to his eye after green dye was splashed on his face.
Last year Navalny said he suspected poisoning when he suffered rashes and his face became swollen while serving a short jail term after calling for illegal protests.
He has been the target of multiple criminal probes and spent numerous stretches in police cells for organising illegal protests, while his Anti-Corruption Foundation was regularly raided by police and investigators.
The latest incident follows several infamous poisonings of Kremlin critics in the past.
Britain named two Russian spies as suspects after Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in the city of Salisbury in March 2018.
Several other opposition figures have suffered severe illnesses in Russia that they blamed on poisoning.