Russian doctors treating the country’s most prominent opposition figure said on Friday that Alexei Navalny was not poisoned, as allies of the Kremlin critic suspect.
Instead, the 44-year-old is said to have been diagnosed with a metabolic disease caused by low blood sugar.
Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor treating Navalny in the Siberian city of Omsk, said traces of industrial chemical substances had been found on Navalny’s clothes and fingers. Earlier on Friday, Murakhovsky had warned an attempt to move him to Germany would pose a threat to his life.
Navalny is in a coma after falling ill during a flight to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday. Allies of Navalny have claimed something was put in his tea at an airport cafe.
Navalny’s spokesperson has pressed for the Russian authorities to urgently approve his medical evacuation to Germany, saying “every hour” of delay represents a “critical threat to his life.”
“The ban on the transportation of Navalny is only needed to stall for time and wait until the poison in his body can no longer be traced,” Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, said via Twitter on Friday, according to a translation.
Yarmysh said doctors at the hospital were initially willing to authorize the transportation of Navalny until very recently. “This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin,” she said.
Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s FBK anti-corruption foundation, questioned why the stricken Kremlin critic’s official diagnosis should prevent his medical transfer. “Due to metabolic disorders and falling sugar, Alexei is not allowed to transport?!” he said via Twitter.
The Kremlin on Friday said it would be up to the Russian doctors treating Navalny to decide whether he could be transported by air ambulance to a European clinic.
A German air ambulance thought to have been sent to collect Navalny landed in Omsk on Friday morning, Reuters reported, citing flight tracking data.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has since claimed German doctors arrived in Siberia at the invitation of the Kremlin to assist in Navalny’s treatment.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, has pushed for Moscow to swiftly pave the way for Navalny to be treated in Germany. A spokesperson for the bloc also called for a probe into his suspected poisoning.
Rights groups call for investigation
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters at a joint press briefing on Thursday that they were both prepared to offer medical assistance to Navalny.
Merkel called for the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s hospitalization to be “cleared up very quickly,” while Macron said he was “extremely worried and saddened” by the news.
Human rights groups have denounced the alleged poisoning of Navalny and called for an immediate and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the hospitalization.
“We are deeply concerned for the health of Mr. Navalny, and wish him a speedy recovery,” Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, said in a statement on Thursday.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the alleged poisoning as “undeniably similar to incidents involving other hardline critics of the Russian authorities,” including the politician Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. and Pussy Riot punk band producer Pyotr Verzilov.
“Navalny himself became seriously ill previously during his administrative arrest a year ago. None of these incidents were investigated,” the group added.
In July last year, Navalny was hospitalized from a detention center, where he was held on administrative arrest after organizing peaceful demonstrations. Authorities said Navalny had suffered an allergic reaction, although the politician himself believes he was poisoned.
Navalny, like many other lawmakers in Russia, has frequently been detained by authorities and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men as they threw anti-septic in his face, damaging one eye.
A staunch critic of Putin, Navalny had campaigned to challenge the long-time leader in the 2018 presidential election, but he was blocked from standing for office.