Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been poisoned, German doctors said following medical analysis.
In a statement the Berlin hospital where he is being treated revealed extensive tests had indicated ‘intoxication by a substances from the group of active substances called cholinesterase inhibitors’. Further analysis to identify the exact chemical is ongoing.
‘The outcome remains uncertain but long-term effects, especially to the nervous system, could not be ruled out’, they said.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are drugs that can increase communication between nerve cells in the brain. They are sometimes used to temporarily improve or stabilise the symptoms of people with dementia.
Common side effects of cholinesterase inhibitors include vomiting, muscle cramps, headache and hallucinations.
Certain chemical classes of pesticides work against bugs by interfering with, or ‘inhibiting’, cholinesterase but they can also be poisonous to humans.
Navalny, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been flown to Germany for treatment on Saturday after doctors in Omsk, Siberia, finally agreed to release him.
The Kremlin said it was unclear what caused Navalny to fall ill and that initial tests did not show he was poisoned, as his aides had charged.
The politician, corruption investigator and one of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s fiercest opponents was taken ill on a flight from Siberia after allegedly drinking tea laced with poison.
His supporters have accused the Kremlin of masterminding his alleged poisoning.
Russian doctors in Siberia have claimed they found ‘no trace’ of poison in his system, choosing to blame the illness on a ‘metabolic disorder’.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a coma but ‘stable’, Charite hospital in Berlin have confirmed. Pictured, the politician arrives at the German hospital on August 22
The politician is feared to have drunk tea laced with poison after he became ill on a flight to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday. Above, the last picture of Mr Navalny before he collapsed
What’s a cholinesterase inhibitor?
Cholinesterase inhibitors are chemicals that prevent the breakdown of the neuro-transmitter acetylcholine.
They do this by blocking the site where the neurotransmitter attaches to the enzyme, according to the US-based Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry.
This leads to an excessive build up of acetylcholine in joints and nerve cells.
Symptoms of the poisoning include muscle rigidity, vomiting and hallucinations.
German police and federal agents are posted outside the Charite hospital in the German capital for his protection, after Merkel extended the hand of friendship.
Her spokesman Steffen Seibert wouldn’t comment on Navalny’s condition today but the German government’s coordinator for eastern European affairs, Dirk Wiese, told the public broadcaster ZDF this morning he was ‘currently critical, but stable’.
The hospital is treating him in an intensive care unit, where he is in an artificial coma, and administering the antidote atropine.
They said his condition is serious but ‘there is currently no acute danger to his life’. Doctors are carrying out further tests to identify the type of cholinesterase used.
Navalny’s team lodged a request to launch a criminal probe with Russian authorities last week, but the Investigative Committee is yet to open the case.
Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician in Moscow and ally of Navalny, urged law enforcement to investigate ‘an attempt at a life of a public figure’ and include Vladimir Putin in their enquiries.
‘It is Putin who benefits from these endless assaults,’ she said.
Navalny’s wife pictured visiting the Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, today
Navalny’s wife arrives at the Charite hospital in Berlin. Angel Merkel’s spokesman said today it was ‘fairly likely’ that he had been poisoned
His supporters insist he was poisoned, but doctors in Omsk said a metabolic disorder was the most likely diagnosis. He is pictured on a stretcher in Omsk prior to his transfer to Germany
Russian doctors at the Siberian hospital where he was treated today denied claims they had been pressured into saying they found no trace of toxins in his system.
The office of chief doctor Alexander Murakhovsky was packed with police and plain-clothed officers when Navalny was moved into the hospital, Omsk Emergency Hospital No.1, according to journalists.
‘I can’t tell you who they were,’ the chief doctor said. ‘I had a lot of people in my office, after all (Navalny) is a political figure.
‘I can’t say they did anything. They just came and asked what was going on.’
Continuing to deny allegations that hospital authorities were lent on by the Kremlin, he claimed: ‘We saved his life with great effort and work.
‘There was no influence on the treatment of the patient a priori and there couldn’t have been any.
‘We didn’t agree diagnoses with anyone. There was no pressure on us from any doctors or any other forces.’
His wife Yulia Navalnaya made an appeal to Vladimir Putin to permit Mr Navalny’s medical evacuation to Germany after Russian health authorities initially said he was too ill to fly
Chief doctor of the Omsk hospital that treated Navalny Alexander Murakhovsky, left, and head physician and deputy Anatoly Kalinichenko. They denied claims they were pressurised by the Kremlin into saying that they had detected no traces of poison in his blood
Senior doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko alleged during the press conference: ‘If we had found some kind of poison that was somehow confirmed then it would have been a lot easier for us. It would have been a clear diagnosis, a clear condition and a well-known course of treatment.’
Navalny was moved from Siberia to the Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, on Saturday after his allies said the hospital was ill-equipped and they did not trust the doctors.
His movements while he was in Siberia were studied ‘extensively’ by government surveillance, Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets has reported.
Sources said he was followed to meetings in Tomsk, the apartment where he was staying, collecting receipts from a shop and even during a short trip out of town for an evening swim in the Tom river.
His press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, complained that the police surveillance was ‘absolutely obvious’ during a stopover in Novosibirsk.
‘The security services are inclined to believe that if the events connected to a poisoning did take place, then they probably occurred at the airport or in the plane,’ the newspaper wrote.
‘His movements and contacts in the city were studied thoroughly.’
Navalny, a long-time critic of Putin, is pictured above at a march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in February 2020
Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have been accused of masterminding the poisoning. They are yet to respond to the allegations
The Charite hospital said it would not comment on his illness until test results were evaluated, only confirming he was still in a coma but ‘stable’.
His wife Yulia Navalnaya arrived at the hospital on Sunday to visit her husband. Top aide Leonid Volkov also visited the hospital but did not speak to reporters.
Mr Navalny became ill on a flight to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday and was taken to hospital after the plane made an emergency landing.
While his supporters and family insist he was poisoned, doctors in Omsk said a metabolic disorder was the most likely diagnosis.
Russian health authorities said tests had not shown poison in his system and initially resisted a transfer to Germany, saying he was too ill to fly.
The dissident’s supporters said this was a ploy to allow the poison to leave his system.
An independent Russian news report at the weekend cited sources in security agencies who said Mr Navalny under intense surveillance during his trip to Siberia.
Moskovsky Komsomolets published details of the surveillance of his every movement, including what he and his associates ate, who he met, his credit card records, shopping receipts, where he stayed, what vehicles he travelled in and even a night time swim in a river.