'Possibility of long-term effects on his nervous system'

Berlin hospital: Russian dissident Navalny’s test results ‘indicate poisoning’

Contradicting Russian doctors, who blamed a metabolic disorder, German medical officials say Putin critic was probably hit by substance that targets central nervous system

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow, September 29, 2019. (Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP /File)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow, September 29, 2019. (Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP /File)

BERLIN, Germany — The Berlin hospital treating leading Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny said on Monday that test results indicated poisoning, contradicting the finding of Russian doctors.

The 44-year-old Kremlin critic and anti-corruption campaigner was brought to the German capital on Saturday after falling ill in Siberia last week with what Russian doctors blamed on a metabolic disorder.

“Clinical findings indicate poisoning with a substance from the group of cholinesterase inhibitors,” the renowned Charite hospital in Berlin said on Twitter.

Cholinesterase is an enzyme that is needed for the central nervous system to function properly.

“Alexei Navalny’s prognosis remains unclear; the possibility of long-term effects, particularly those affecting the nervous system, cannot be excluded,” the hospital added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert had told reporters earlier it was “fairly likely” Navalny had been poisoned.

German police officers stand guard outside Berlin’s Charite hospital on August 24, 2020, where Alexei Navalny is treated after his medical evacuation to Germany (Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

Russia’s most prominent opposition figure was rushed into intensive care in Siberia on Thursday, after his plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk.

His supporters have said they believe he was poisoned by something in his cup of tea at the airport before he took off, pointing the finger of blame at President Vladimir Putin.

The Omsk regional health ministry has said that caffeine and alcohol were found in Navalny’s urine, but “no convulsive or synthetic poisons were detected.”

“The suspicion is… that somebody seriously poisoned Mr. Navalny, which, unfortunately, there are some examples of in recent Russian history, so the world takes this suspicion very seriously,” Seibert said.

Navalny was flown to Berlin on a medical plane chartered by German NGO Cinema for Peace, an initiative financed by private donations.

The transfer came after Merkel extended an offer of treatment in Germany, saying news of Navalny’s condition had “truly upset me.”

The Charite doctors have pledged to carry out an “extensive medical diagnosis.”

Doctors treating him in Omsk initially refused to let Navalny leave, but had a change of heart after his family and staff demanded he be allowed to travel to Germany.

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh claimed Russia’s refusal to evacuate him was a ploy to “play for time” and make it impossible to trace poison.

At a press conference on Monday, doctors in Omsk denied that they were pressured by officials while treating Navalny.

German army emergency personnel load into their ambulance the stretcher that was used to transport Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny on at Berlin’s Charite hospital, where Navalny will be treated after his medical evacuation to Germany following a suspected poisoning, August 22, 2020. (Odd ANDERSEN / AFP)

“There was no influence on the treatment of the patient a priori and there couldn’t have been any,” said Alexander Murakhovsky, the chief doctor at the Omsk emergency hospital No 1.

Jaka Bizilj, head of the Cinema for Peace NGO, told Germany’s Bild newspaper that he believed Navalny would survive, but “the crucial question is whether he will survive this unscathed, and continue to play his role.”

In any case, he would certainly be out of action politically “for at least one or two months,” Bizilj said, meaning that he would miss key regional elections next month.

German Foreign Mminister Heiko Maas said Monday that “more clarification is needed” on Navalny’s condition.

“There are still many facts missing, of a medical but also criminological nature, which we must wait for,” he said during a visit to Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Navalny is the latest in a long line of Kremlin critics who have fallen seriously ill or died in apparent poisonings.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens, during a video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, June 26, 2020. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

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 next month’s elections.

Yarmysh said that the politician had seemed “absolutely fine” before boarding the flight, and had neither drunk alcohol nor taken any medication.

She said she was sure that 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.

European Union leaders, including Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, have voiced concern for him, after he faced repeated physical attacks and prosecutions.

The director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation that Navalny founded, Ivan Zhdanov, confirmed on social media that the organization was continuing its work.

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