Kremlin critic Navalny was under close surveillance in Siberia: Report

Putin opponent, flown to Berlin for treatment following alleged poisoning, said to be in critical but stable condition

Police on Saturday guarding the front of Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, where Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny is being treated.
Police on Saturday guarding the front of Charite hospital in Berlin, Germany, where Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny is being treated.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MOSCOW • Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who fell gravely ill last Thursday after what his allies believe was a poisoning, was under intense police surveillance in preceding days, a Russian tabloid newspaper cited law enforcement sources as saying.

Before he collapsed on a flight during a trip to Siberia, Mr Navalny was followed by Russian Federal Security Service plainclothes officers and his movements were closely monitored via closed-circuit television, the report in the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said.

Mr Navalny, a long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin and campaigner against corruption, was flown in an air ambulance on Saturday for treatment in Germany.

The 44-year-old was in an induced coma when he was evacuated from the Siberian city of Omsk, but there has been no word yet from the Charite hospital in Berlin on his condition.

His team were due to host a briefing via YouTube yesterday evening to discuss "everything we know so far about Alexei's poisoning", but subsequently cancelled it saying they were not ready, press secretary Kira Yarmysh and campaign headquarters head Leonid Volkov wrote on Twitter.

But according to an ally who helped organise Mr Navalny's evacuation from Russia to Berlin's Charite hospital, Mr Navalny was in "very critical" but stable condition.

The results of the tests and a prognosis may not be available for several days, Mr Volkov, his chief of staff, said in a Facebook post.

Citing security service sources, Moskovsky Komsomolets described the timeline of his trip before he fell ill down to the number of rooms his team had booked in a local hotel and the fact that Mr Navalny chose not to sleep in the room booked under his name.

An apartment rented for him by one of his supporters was discovered by police surveillance, the paper reported, when a sushi takeaway was ordered to the address by one of Mr Navalny's supporters.

"The scale of the surveillance does not surprise me at all, we were perfectly aware of it before," Ms Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. "What is surprising, however, is that (security service sources) did not shy away from describing it."

His sudden and severe illness has raised suspicions after a string of Kremlin critics have become victims of poisoning.

In its report, Moskovsky Komsomolets cited security sources as saying that their surveillance of Mr Navalny's movements did not reveal any suspicious contacts that could be related to his illness.

Security services believe that if Mr Navalny was poisoned, the incident would have taken place either in the airport or on the plane, the newspaper wrote.

However, the paper said they are still awaiting results of laboratory tests of samples taken by police from all the places Mr Navalny and his team visited on their trip, including samples of the air.

Initial results are expected today, with results from tests for radioactive material due later in the week, the paper said. It did not say if these would be made public.

Doctors at the hospital in Omsk where Mr Navalny was treated before his evacuation to Germany have said they do not believe he was poisoned. They diagnosed him with a metabolic disease that may have been caused by low blood sugar.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last Friday that it was still unclear what caused Mr Navalny to fall ill.

He had previously said that any poisoning would need to be confirmed by laboratory tests and that doctors were doing everything they could to help Mr Navalny.

"Only time will tell what the outcome is," Mr Jaka Bizilj, co-founder of the Cinema for Peace group that facilitated Mr Navalny's move, said in a phone interview on Saturday.

"If he survives, will he be the old Navalny? We're completely in the dark right now," said Mr Bizilj.

Mr Navalny's widely viewed reports about corruption in Mr Putin's inner circle have made him countless enemies over the years.

He has a huge following on social media, with 2.2 million subscribers on Twitter alone, and his YouTube channel regularly posts investigations that have embarrassed top allies of Mr Putin, such as former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, for their lavish lifestyles.

"No matter whether it's an attempted murder or just scare tactics, poisonings are pretty much always somehow connected to the security services," Ms Tatiana Stanovaya, head of R. Politik, a political consultancy, said in a social media post.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2020, with the headline 'Kremlin critic Navalny was under close surveillance in Siberia: Report'. Print Edition | Subscribe