Russian activist Alexei Navalny has arrived in Berlin on Saturday morning on a plane departing from Siberia after Russian doctors said his condition was stable enough for him to travel.
News agency AP reports he's currently being treated at Berlin's Charite hospital. When he arrived, his condition was "stable", according to the German doctors who flew with him.
The 44-year-old felt unwell on Thursday morning on his way to Moscow and had been hospitalised in the intensive care unit the Siberian town of Omsk ever since.
"The struggle for Alexey's life and health is just beginning, and there is still a lot to go through," his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said "but now at least the first step has been taken".
His closest collaborators suspect he might have been poisoned because of his political activity, but doctors at the Omsk hospital said they didn't find poison in Navanly's blood.
He's being taken to Germany by an NGO called Cinema for Peace. The organisation brought to Siberia a team of doctors who were briefly allowed to see Navalny on Friday.
Cinema for Peace, which is known for its actions helping human rights defenders in Russia, has already carried out a similar operation when it medevacked Piotr Verzilov, a member of controversial Russian group Pussy Riot, after he was poisoned in 2018.
Navalny's representatives had previously applied to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to allow for his medical evacuation.
Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said that the travel ban represented a direct threat to his life and was decided by the Kremlin.
Friday night, the court ordered that Navalny's family and personal doctors be allowed to visit him and ensure the state of his health. The ECHR also urged transfer to Germany be made as soon possible and said Russia must ensure "without delay" that the ECHR, Navalny's wife and his doctor gain access to his medical files.
Navalny's doctor Vasilyeva had asked for support from the Ministry of Health to gain access to his medical records and transport him to a hospital in Moscow or abroad.
What happened before
Yarmysh alerted Twitter users on Thursday morning, saying Navalny is in intensive care in a Siberian hospital after apparently being poisoned.
Navalny was on a flight from Siberia to Moscow early on Thursday morning when the plane had to make an emergency landing due to a sudden deterioration of his health, his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh tweeted. "Alexei has been poisoned, intoxicated," and "is now in intensive care."
She told the Echo Moskvy radio station that Navalny was 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.
She said to the station she believed the suspected poisoning was connected to this year's regional election campaign.
S7 airlines sent a statement to Euronews on Thursday:
"Soon after take-off of the S7 2614 Tomsk – Moscow flight, the well-being of one of the passengers, Alexei Navalny, sharply deteriorated. The crew worked quickly and strictly in accordance with the procedures. The flight attendants immediately reported this to the captain, who made the decision to land at the nearest airport - in Omsk. Onboard Alexei did not eat or drink anything.
The ambulance took Alexey straight to intensive care. Two passengers flying with him also stayed in Omsk. After refueling the aircraft, the crew continued their flight to Moscow."
Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer with Navalny's foundation, said the team is requesting Russia's Investigative Committee open a criminal probe.
“There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned because of his political stance and activity,” Gimadi said in a tweet on Thursday.
Yarmysh said they suspect a substance was mixed into his tea since it was the only thing he drank that morning. She adds, "doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid."
State news agency Tass confirmed that Navalny was admitted to the intensive care unit of the toxicology department in the emergency department of Omsk hospital in Siberia.
Yarmysh, who continues to document the events at the hospital, highlighted on Twitter that a large amount of police had arrived to investigate and posted a photo of a hallway filled with security staff.
Navalny is currently being treated at the Omsk ambulance hospital №1, he is in a coma. Doctors at the hospital remain tight-lipped about his diagnosis. Anatoliy Kalinichenko, deputy chief doctor of the hospital, told reporters that Navalny was in grave, yet stable condition. Kalinichenko said doctors are considering a variety of diagnoses, including poisoning, but refused to give details, citing a law preventing doctors from disclosing confidential patient information.
State news agency Tass reported that police were not considering deliberate poisoning, citing an anonymous source in law enforcement who said: “it is not unlikely that he drank or consumed something yesterday himself.”
Navalny is a major opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 44-year-old lawyer, whose anti-corruption publications are widely shared on social networks, has already suffered from physical attacks in the past. In particular, he was sprayed in the eyes with a disinfectant when leaving his office in 2017.
Navalny, his supporters and their families are regularly subjected to arrests, searches and police pressure throughout Russia.
As more information about Navalny's condition comes to light, political leaders are apprehensively watching the situation unfold.
EU Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrali said the EU expects "a swift, independent and transparent investigation, and if [poisoning] is confirmed those responsible must be held to account".
"We trust that the Russian authorities will stand by their promises to allow Mr Navalny to be safely and speedily transferred abroad, in order to receive medical treatment in line with the wishes of his family."
MEP Guy Verhofstadt wished Navalny a quick recovery on Twitter.
Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius tweeted he was concerned and following the events.
French president Emmanuel Macron indicated France was ready to offer Navalny “all necessary assistance." He told reporters on Thursday that France was "extremely worried and saddened” by what happened, and that he had offered the opposition leader and his family help with medical care or other unspecified protection.
Macron also insisted on the need to clarify what happened.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. speaking at a joint news conference with Macron, said Germany also will insist on transparency regarding Navalny’s illness and expressed support for him.
“Obviously Germany will let him have all the medical help that is needed also in German hospitals,” Merkel said. “But that must of course be a wish expressed from there.”
“What is also very important is that it will be clarified very urgently how it could come to the situation,” Merkel added.
In the US, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed her support for Navalny's wife and demanded he be allowed to be transported to Germany for treatment.
Roughly a year ago, on July 28, 2019, Navalny had filed a complaint to the Moscow Investigative Committee — the main federal investigating authority in Russia —saying that he had been poisoned in custody.
Navalny was discharged from a Moscow hospital in August 2019 and returned to prison after being treated for suspected poisoning from a chemical agent.
Back then, he was serving a jail stint for calling for unauthorised protests, but was hospitalised after suffering an acute allergic reaction, his spokeswoman Yarmysh said.
Doctors then said he had a severe allergic attack and discharged him back to prison the following day.
Elena Sibikina, one of the doctors who treated Navalny, told reporters that the idea that he had been poisoned with a chemical substance had "not been proven". She said his life was not in danger.
But Navalny took to social media to say he believed Russian officials were stupid enough to try to poison him in prison.
"Are they really such idiots to poison you in a place where suspicions point only at them?" Navalny wrote on Facebook.
"It's a good question. For now, I can say one thing with certainty: the people in power in Russia are really quite stupid guys. It seems to you that in their actions you need to look for secret meaning or a rational purpose. But in fact, they are just stupid, malicious and obsessed with money."
Posting a picture of himself with a puffy face unable to open either eye, he pointed to what he said was the previous poisoning of two other opposition activists and said his own eyes had swollen up to the size of ping pong balls.
His own doctor and lawyer said they opposed the "strange" decision to return Navalny to a prison cell where they believe he was somehow poisoned in the first place.
"He was really poisoned by some unknown chemical substance," Olga Mikhailova, his lawyer, told reporters. "But what the substance was has not been established."
Navalny was released from prison on August 23, 2019, after a court refused to extend his sentence.
Navalny is one of the most prominent opposition politicians
Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level. Last month, the politician had to shut the foundation after a financially devastating lawsuit from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
The most prominent member of Russia's opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but was barred from running.
He set up a network of campaign offices across Russia and has since been putting forward opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of Russia's ruling party, United Russia.
Like many other opposition politicians in Russia, Navalny has been frequently detained by law enforcement and harassed by pro-Kremlin groups. In 2017, he was attacked by several men who threw antiseptic in his face, damaging one eye.