Russian dissident Alexey Navalny will travel to a German clinic for care but not until Saturday, after falling gravely ill in a suspected poisoning according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.
The Kremlin critic is in a coma after becoming sick from suspected poisoning on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, Yarmysh said Thursday. The plane later made an urgent landing in Omsk, she added.
On Friday, Russian doctors treating the anti-corruption blogger gave his team permission to move him.
“We do not object to his transfer to another hospital,” Anatoly Kalinichenko, deputy chief physician at the hospital where Navalny is being treated, told reporters, according to TASS.
Navalny was driven out of a hospital in an ambulance early on Saturday, according to Yarmysh.
She tweeted: “Alexey Navalny was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the airport. At the same time, (brother) Oleg Navalny, (director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation) Ivan Zhdanov, and I were in the hospital.
“There was an agreement that we will go in the ambulance with Alexey. But he was taken away from us in secret.”
Navalny is to take an air evacuation flight from Omsk to Berlin where it is believed he will be treated at Charité hospital.
The Siberian hospital treating Navalny has rejected claims the Russian opposition leader had been poisoned on Friday, even as his wife said the doctors there could not be trusted.
RIA Novosti quoted the deputy head doctor as saying: “We have requests from relatives to transport [him]. They take this risk upon themselves, we do not mind.”
On Friday, Kalinichenko, the deputy head physician, said no poisons were found in Navalny’s blood or urine.
“We don’t believe that the patient suffered poisoning,” Kalinichenko told local journalists in a news conference.
“Poisons or traces of their presence in the body have not been identified. Probably, the diagnosis of ‘poisoning’ remains somewhere in the back of our minds. But we do not believe that the patient suffered poisoning,” he added.
Navalny’s team claims that transport police in Omsk have detected a “deadly substance” that poses a threat to his life and the lives of those around him and say this is the reason why the hospital initially did not allow him to be moved.
TASS also reported Friday that an “industrial chemical” identified in samples taken from Navalny was a non-toxic substance commonly found in plastic products, citing the regional branch of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Navalny’s wife writes to Putin
The Russian opposition leader’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, earlier wrote to President Vladimir Putin demanding her husband’s release from the Omsk hospital so he could be transferred to Germany. Her husband, an anti-corruption campaigner, has been repeatedly jailed and spent long stretches in custody for organizing political protests.
She said at a news conference that “he [Navalny] is not in a very good state and we, of course, cannot trust this hospital and we demand for Alexey to be given to us, so that we could have him treated in an independent hospital whose doctors we trust.”
Yulia Navalnaya said she believed the hospital initially refused to allow her husband to be transported to cover up signs of a so-called “chemical substance.”
Navalnaya added: “We think, of course, that it is done to make the chemical substance that is in Alexey’s body disappear. That is why he is not given to us of course, so that the substance residues disappear.”
She was unable to talk to the German doctors who flew in to Omsk on Friday to take Navalny to Berlin for treatment. She said the medics were taken to the hospital by police and led in through the back door and out through another entrance. She believes it was done so the doctors didn’t see or contact Navalny’s family.
“We are hidden from them … we don’t know who took them in what car. I was unable to talk to them,” Navalnaya told reporters in front of the hospital on a video along with Yarmysh.
Navalnaya said her husband’s team has lost contact with the staff of Omsk hospital, where the opposition leader has been unconscious for two days.
“The doctors have stopped making contact with us starting around 3 p.m. local,” she said.
Navalnaya also claimed some unidentified men inside the hospital used force against her while trying to prevent her from coming in and meeting with the German doctors.
“When I tried to go to the intensive care unit to consult the doctors, I was kicked out in a rude manner with the use of force by some people who were inside the building dressed in jackets. It is unclear who they were. Half of them are security guards, another are just some people in civilian clothes,” she added.
“They told me there will be a ‘press-approach’ of the press service of the hospital where they will inform people on what is going on. And that’s when I’ll get to know everything.
Fight to move Navalny
The German doctors who have examined Navalny say he can be moved safely, according to his spokeswoman and the head of the NGO, Cinema for Peace.
“Having examined Alexey Navalny, German doctors – professional resuscitators – came to the conclusion that he is transportable and the equipment of their aircraft allows him to be safely immediately transported to Berlin to the Charite University Hospital in accordance with the wishes of Yulia Navalnaya,” Yarmysh, the spokeswoman, tweeted on Friday.
Jaka Bizilj, the head of Cinema for Peace and an ally of the dissident, also said Navalny was in “a condition where he can be transported.”
Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), claimed that while in the hospital “a member of transport police came in and showed his phone [to the physician] saying, ‘This substance was found.’”
Zhdanov claimed the head physician replied: “Well, okay it was found [so what?]. I have no information other than that.”
Zhdanov said he asked the police officer what the substance was and claims he was told: “It’s a secret of the investigation, we can’t tell you but it’s a deadly substance. This substance poses a threat not just to Alexey’s life but also to others. Everybody around should wear protective suits.”
“That’s all she said. What substance is it? We don’t know yet,” Zhdanov told reporters at an impromptu news conference.
The “main working diagnosis” for the Kremlin critic is “a metabolic disorder which caused a sharp drop in blood sugar,” state-run RIA Novosti reported, quoting Omsk hospital’s chief physician, Alexander Murakhovsky.
According to the RIA report, experts have ruled out stroke, heart attack or infections including coronavirus.
Kremlin: ‘We are not doctors’
When asked by CNN earlier if the Kremlin had any knowledge of deliberate attempts by authorities to intervene or prevent the evacuation of Navalny, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said they were “unaware of this.”
“There’s nothing for me to add. It’s absolutely the decision of the attending doctor. We are talking about transportation that could pose a threat to the patient’s life. This is the doctor’s conclusion. The patient lost consciousness on the plane after it had gained height,” Peskov continued.
“For now, the doctors don’t understand what exactly was the cause.”
Peskov added that the Kremlin does not deal with the issues of treating a patient, saying, “We are not doctors.”
Peskov earlier claimed the Kremlin had not received an official appeal from Navalny’s team to move him. “As such, at least I am unaware of it. There have only been some appeals on social media,” he said.
“But, perhaps, we don’t need extra bureaucracy here. As you know, a flight flew in from Germany. We asked this morning how things are. As far as I know, our doctors invited the doctors who had flown in from Germany to come to the hospital, to participate in the concilium with our doctors, to get all the information about the treatment methods, the available tests, etc.”
When asked if the Kremlin had any knowledge about what had happened, the spokesman said it would take time to do all the tests to identify the causes of Navalny’s condition.
“Up until this moment, the tests have not identified anything. A number of substances that could have been a cause for poisoning have already been excluded, but the list is not exhaustive. Those are very complicated tests on toxicology, and it takes time to do them. They are not done in one or two days. So far, no results. So it just takes a lot of patience,” said Peskov.
He added he was unaware if the special services report to the president about the course of the investigation, stating: “I don’t see any reason for [such] reports.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he was “very concerned” about the suspected poisoning of Navalny, in a tweet on Friday.
“We need to be 100% sure that his safety is guaranteed,” said Morawiecki, adding: “Poland supports the efforts to provide Mr. Navalny with the best available treatment.”
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina, Darya Tarasova and Martin Goillandeau contributed reporting.