German docs allowed to see Kremlin critic in Russia

His aides accuse Kremlin of blocking medical transfer to Germany; wife appeals to Putin

A German ambulance aircraft with a team specialised in treating coma patients landing at an airport in the Siberian city of Omsk yesterday to pick up Mr Alexei Navalny for his transfer to Germany, which was later blocked.
(From far left) Mr Navalny’s personal physician Anastasia Vasilyeva, brother Oleg and wife Yulia at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 yesterday in Siberia, Russia, where he is warded. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny (above) was admitted to hospital for what his aides say was suspected poisoning. (From far left) Mr Navalny's personal physician Anastasia Vasilyeva, brother Oleg and wife Yulia at Omsk Emergency Hospital No.
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny (above) was admitted to hospital for what his aides say was suspected poisoning.
Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny (above) was admitted to hospital for what his aides say was suspected poisoning. (From far left) Mr Navalny's personal physician Anastasia Vasilyeva, brother Oleg and wife Yulia at Omsk Emergency Hospital No.
A German ambulance aircraft with a team specialised in treating coma patients landing at an airport in the Siberian city of Omsk yesterday to pick up Mr Alexei Navalny for his transfer to Germany, which was later blocked. PHOTO: REUTERS

OMSK/BERLIN • German doctors have been allowed access to hospitalised Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, raising the hope that the authorities might allow him to be transferred to Germany for treatment soon, his chief of staff said.

Mr Leonid Volkov, Mr Navalny's right-hand man, said what he described as a sudden, unexpected decision by doctors in Omsk not to release Mr Navalny to a waiting air ambulance, was a cover-up to prevent the world from finding out what happened to him.

"What... influenced this young and sporty man to this extent that he was nearly dead and had to be put in coma and on a ventilator... is still unclear," Mr Volkov said.

Mr Navalny's allies suspect he was poisoned before boarding a flight to Moscow and have suggested that it will not be possible to trace the poison if too much time passes before tests are performed.

Mr Volkov said doctors had changed their minds about letting Mr Navalny fly after security officials took over the decision-making process from the physicians.

Mr Jaka Bizilj, founder of the Cinema for Peace Foundation that sent the aircraft to Omsk in Siberia, said the decision came as a surprise as the Russian authorities had granted permission for the flight.

The foundation had in 2018 taken activist Pyotr Verzilov, a member of the dissident art collective Pussy Riot, to Berlin for treatment. Doctors concluded that he was poisoned but it was too late at that stage to identify the agent.

Mr Navalny's wife Yulia yesterday appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow him to be flown to Germany for urgent medical care. "I officially appeal to you (Putin) to demand you allow the transportation of... Navalny to... Germany," read the letter that Mrs Navalny sent to the Kremlin. It was published on social media.

Mr Navalny's aides have asked a Europe rights court to obtain his medical transfer to Germany.

Dr Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor at the hospital in Omsk, said traces of industrial chemical substances had been found on Mr Navalny's clothes and fingers. He said the 44-year-old would remain at the hospital until his condition stabilised.

Mr Navalny's wife and his spokesman Kira Yarmysh have criticised the hospital after it said that moving him would put his life at risk because he was still in a coma and his condition unstable.

"The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life being carried out right now by doctors and the deceitful authorities," Ms Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.

Speaking before the letter was sent, the Kremlin yesterday said it was up to doctors to decide whether Mr Navalny was fit to be moved from the hospital.

Dr Murakhovsky told reporters that many legal questions would need to be resolved before Mr Navalny could be handed over to European doctors.

He said the top doctors who had been flown in from Moscow to treat Mr Navalny were no worse than their European counterparts. Test results would be available within two days, he added.

Mr Navalny fell ill after drinking tea on Thursday morning that his allies believe was laced with poison. He started feeling unwell while on a flight and was rushed to hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk.

Mr Navalny has been the biggest thorn in the Kremlin's side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of protesters. He was barred from running in a presidential election in 2018.

French Junior European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune yesterday said he shared the concerns and fears about Mr Navalny's fate, and reiterated that France was ready to help him if necessary.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2020, with the headline 'German docs allowed to see Kremlin critic in Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe