The mystery around the apparent poisoning of Alexei Navalny deepened on Friday, with aides at one point relaying claims doctors had identified a substance lethal not only to the Putin critic, but those around him too.
Ivan Zhdanov, head of Mr Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, said a transport police officer had confirmed the presence of a toxin. “She said everyone around was working in protective costumes, but wouldn’t name the substance and claimed investigatory privilege.”
The politician’s supporters said they were unconvinced by the claims. His wife Yulia Navalnya suggested authorities were instead stalling for time to stop his planned evacuation to Germany – and allow whatever toxin may be in his body to disappear.
A doctor at the hospital treating Mr Navalny claimed medical staff were satisfied he had not been poisoned. They had found “no trace” of toxins or byproducts of these toxins in blood or urine samples taken from the Kremlin critic, deputy chief clinician Anatoly Kalinichenko said. Family members had already been informed of a final diagnosis, he added.
Mr Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, fell seriously ill on Thursday morning 40 minutes into a flight from Tomsk, Siberia. His Moscow-bound plane made an emergency stop in Omsk, 500 miles away.
Already unconscious by the time the plane landed, Mr Navalny was rushed to intensive care, where he remains in a critical condition, comatose and plugged in to a ventilator.
Both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have offered assistance expatriating Mr Navalny for specialist treatment in Europe. Mr Navalny’s team believe that offers the best chance for his recovery and of identifying whatever might have caused his condition.
An air ambulance has already touched down in Siberia for a planned evacuation to Berlin. But in an apparent U-turn, hospital authorities insisted the patient’s condition was too “unstable” for a safe evacuation.
In comments to the press on Friday morning, the Omsk hospital’s chief clinician Alexander Murakhovsky said his staff were still working on five possible diagnoses. There was no need for foreign expertise, he claimed, since specialists from Moscow were “no worse”. Test results, available in two days, would give complete information, he added.
Mr Navalny’s colleagues say the chief doctor’s behaviour has been suspicious.
“Two days,” said Mr Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh. “That is presumably the exact answer to the question of how much time is needed for the toxin to disappear from his body without trace.”