Russian Doctors Block Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny from Transferring to German Hospital

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures as he delivers a speech during a demonstration in Moscow on September 29, 2019. - Thousands gathered in Moscow for a demonstration demanding the release of the opposition protesters prosecuted in recent months. Police estimated a turnout of 20,000 people at the Sakharov Avenue …
YURI KADOBNOV/AFP via Getty Images

The European Commission on Friday urged Moscow to allow ailing opposition leader Alexei Navalny to seek medical treatment in Germany.

Navalny is currently in serious condition in a Siberian hospital after falling critically ill aboard an airplane. His friends and allies claim Navalny was poisoned, while Russian doctors say he is suffering complications from low blood sugar.

France and Germany quickly offered medical care after Navalny was hospitalized on Thursday. A Berlin-based non-profit called the Cinema for Peace Foundation immediately dispatched an air ambulance to pick Navalny up, calling the Kremlin’s bluff after a few hours of vague comments about whether Navalny would be allowed to seek treatment outside of Russia.

Doctors at the hospital in Omsk, Siberia, rebuffed the Cinema for Peace Foundation on Friday, stating that Navalny’s condition improved somewhat overnight but his life is still in danger, he is still comatose, and it would be dangerous to move him.

The Russian doctors working on Navalny initially made some comments indicating they believed he was exposed to a toxic substance, but on Friday they clarified their diagnosis to blame low blood sugar as the root cause of his illness, producing a “metabolic disease” that might have been triggered by “industrial chemical substances” they found on his clothing and fingertips. 

“Poisoning as a diagnosis remains on the back burner, but we don’t believe that the patient suffered from poisoning,” the chief doctor of the Omsk hospital told reporters on Friday. 

These statements were rejected by Navalny’s friends and supporters, including his wife Yulia and his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who pleaded with the Russian government to let Navalny fly to Germany, as quoted by Reuters

Yulia Navalnaya sent a letter to the Kremlin directly appealing for it to intervene, Navalny’s supporters said.

“I officially appeal to you (Putin) to demand you allow the transportation of… Navalny to .. Germany,” the letter published on social media said.

Yarmysh said doctors had previously consented to his being moved, but had withheld their agreement at the last minute.

“The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life being carried out right now by doctors and the deceitful authorities that have authorised it,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter.

“This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin,” she said.

The Kremlin has said only Navalny’s doctors in Siberia could make the decision about allowing him to relocate. On Friday morning, the Kremlin ominously modified its position to indicate there were some “legal questions that would need to be resolved before Navalny could be handed over to European doctors,” as Reuters put it.

The European Commission called on Moscow to let Navalny seek treatment in Germany at a Friday morning news conference. The Commission did not appear satisfied with the Russian doctors’ diagnosis of low blood sugar.

“We expect a swift, independent, transparent investigation and if 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,” a spokeswoman said.

Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov said on Friday morning that the German doctors flown to Omsk by the Cinema for Peace Foundation “finally got access” to Navalny. He called this a “positive development,” but still accused the Russian government of running a “cover-up operation.” 

“The medical staff, the people in white robes, were literally substituted by people in gray suits in their offices,” Volkov said. “Our demand stays the same: we have to bring him to someplace, to Berlin to Charite, where independent analysis can be done of what is happening to him.”

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