MOSCOW – The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, 44-year-old lawyer Alexei Navalny, is in a coma and on a ventilator in Siberia after a suspected poisoning.
Navalny felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia, and was taken to a hospital after the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter.
She told the Echo Moskvy radio station that he must have consumed poison in tea he drank at an airport cafe before boarding the plane. During the flight, he started sweating and asked her to talk to him so that he could “focus on the sound of a voice.” He then went to the bathroom and lost consciousness, and has been in a coma in grave condition ever since.
“Doctors aren’t just doing everything possible. The doctors are really working now on saving his life,” the hospital’s deputy head doctor Anatoly Kalinichenko, told AFP.
Navalny is in a natural, not induced coma and the hospital remains tight-lipped about his diagnosis saying that they were considering a variety of theories, including poisoning.
Reports about the alleged poisoning made waves in the West. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a tweet that he was “deeply concerned” by the reports of suspected poisoning, and Amnesty International demanded a full and thorough investigation from Russian authorities.
Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor in exile in Russia, tweeted that if poisoning is confirmed, “it is a crime against the whole of Russia.”
Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level. Last month, he had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessperson with close ties to the Kremlin.
He campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election but was barred from running.
Navalny is not the first opposition figure to come down with a mysterious poisoning.
In 2018 Pyotr Verzilov spent a month in a hospital, recovering from a suspected poisoning by an unknown substance. He told the AP that Navalny’s initial symptoms — loss of coordination, pain and fainting — were very similar to his.
Opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza was hospitalized with poisoning symptoms, in 2015 and 2017. Prominent journalist Anna Politkovskaya was also reportedly poisoned in 2004, two years before being murdered.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.