Russia Media Spreads Theory Navalny Was Poisoned During Flight to Germany

A Russian medical specialist has told state media that the opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is in intensive care in a Berlin hospital, may have been treated with drugs en route to Germany that produced positive test results for poisoning.

Navalny, a vehement critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in an induced coma after he fell ill on a flight which had to be diverted to the Siberian city of Omsk where he had been initially treated.

Following calls from world leaders and an appeal to Putin himself, Navalny was transferred to the Charite hospital in the German capital where tests revealed that he had been poisoned by a group of cholinesterase inhibitors, although the specific substance is not yet known.

"The effect of the poison namely, the inhibition of cholinesterase in the body, was confirmed by multiple tests in independent laboratories," the hospital said in a statement, adding that Navalny was being treated with the antidote atropine and that he remained in a serious condition, although it is not life threatening.

However, Russian ministry of health specialist Igor Molchanov told the state news agency TASS that it would have been unlikely for the doctors in Omsk who had initially analyzed Navalny to have missed poisoning symptoms, which include agitation and sweating.

Molchanov, who heads the anesthesiology department at the Russian Medical Academy of Continuing Professional Education said that during Navalny's transfer by plane, he may have been treated with drugs which had produced the positive test results of poisoning by cholinesterase inhibitors.

"They [doctors] examined the patient after he spent time in the intensive care unit, received a number of drugs and was transported. During this stage, a number of similar drugs were also injected, which may have left similar traces," he added.

Alexei Navalny
An isolation unit used to transport Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is pictured at Charite hospital on August 22, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. Navalny hisbeing treated for a possible poisoning. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

The poisoning diagnosis in Germany appeared to vindicate the desire by Navalny's supporters and family to transfer him from the Siberian hospital. They feared that he would not receive adequate treatment in Russia and that there might be an attempt to cover up the true nature of the suspected attack, which they say is politically motivated.

The prospect of Russian doctors not being able to diagnose Navalny's poisoning poses a PR problem for the Kremlin and the hospital in Omsk, which will face accusations that it was in cahoots with authorities to play down the seriousness of his condition.

Anatoly Kalinichenko, deputy chief physician of the hospital told TASS he was "at a loss" to explain the discrepancy between the analyses carried out in Omsk and Berlin and an investigation is underway. His hospital has also offered to provide German doctors with Navalny's test samples.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny pictured in Moscow on December 26, 2019. He is being treated in Berlin after a suspected poisoning his supporters say is politically motivated. DIMITAR DILKOFF/Getty Images

Businessman Bill Browder, who campaigned for the Magnitsky Act which has sanctioned Russian officials, was dismissive of Molchanov's claims, tweeting: "This is crazy."

Former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul accused Russian doctors in Omsk of "lying about Navalny's condition."

"Orders to deceive allegedly came from Moscow. German doctors have stated that he was poisoned. Remember this deception before celebrating Russia's COVID vaccine. Don't trust, only verify," he tweeted.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical and biological weapons expert, told The Guardian Navalny may have been poisoned with a nerve agent. "The levels show how much you have been exposed. It's just a touch suspicious that someone vehemently opposed to the Russian state should fall ill in this way."

On Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there was not enough evidence to start a criminal investigation.

"We need a reason to investigate. So far, we state that the patient is in a coma," Peskov said, according to TASS, and he described claims that an attempt had been made on Navalny's life as "empty noise."