Alexey Navalny is out of a coma and off a ventilator, just weeks after his near-fatal poisoning. Now the Kremlin critic is planning his return home to Russia, where his list of enemies is as long as it is powerful.
Navalny is being treated at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, after becoming gravely unwell on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow on August 20.
The German government says tests prove he was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. The Kremlin has strongly denied any involvement, but questions remain.
It’s not just Navalny who has been under attack.
Just one day after he emerged from his medically-induced coma, at least three volunteers linked to his team were targeted at their office in Novosibirsk, Siberia.
Two masked men were recorded by security cameras, bursting in to the office of “Coalition Novosibirsk 2020,” which is also headquarters of Navalny’s local team.
One of them threw a bottle containing an unknown yellow liquid – described to CNN as a “pungent chemical”, “unbearable” by witnesses – at volunteers who were there for a lecture about the upcoming local elections, before running off.
The Kremlin has denied having anything to do with the attacks, but analysts are skeptical.
“Russia has a track record of sudden deaths among the Kremlin’s critics: Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov, to name but a few,” says longtime Russia analyst Valeriy Akimenko from the Conflict Studies Research Centre, an independent research group. “If this wasn’t a murder plot or assassination attempt, it was an act of intimidation.”
Which raises an important question: How much immediate danger is Navalny in, if and when he does return to Russia?
“I don’t think the words safety or security apply to anyone who is opposition in Russia,” says Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician and chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom, who has been poisoned twice in the past five years.