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Russian doctors allow Navalny's transfer to Germany

August 21, 2020

The German medical team has ascertained Navalny is fit enough to be airlifted to Berlin. Russian doctors have now given permission for his transfer which is expected to occur on Saturday. DW followed how events unfolded.

German healthcare workers of FAI Air Ambulance arrive at Omsk Ambulance Hospital No 1
Image: picturea-alliance/dpa/TASS/Y. Sofiychuk

  • Alexei Navalny is in a coma after a suspected poisoning
  • Russian health officials will allow Navalny to be airlifted to Berlin
  • Navalny's wife believes that doctors at the Siberian hospital were deliberately delaying his transfer so that the chemical substance has time to disappear from her husband's metabolism

All updates in Universal Coordinated Time (UTC/GMT).

22:00 We are wrapping up our live updates for today. We'll be back on Saturday morning to bring you the latest on Alexei Navalny's scheduled flight to Germany. In the meantime, you can read below to catch up on what happened on Friday. 

20:40 Jaka Bizlij, founder of Cinema for Peace, told DW he believes German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support was key in allowing Navalny to be airlifted to Germany.

"I think it was a combination of many things and started off yesterday when Angela Merkel and [French President Emmanuel] Macron gave their support, saying that they would offer him medical treatment in France and Germany," Bizlij said.

When asked whether he thought it was safe for Navalny to be flown in his condition, Bizlij deferred to the doctors.

"These experienced medics have been flying people in very difficult conditions — people who are on the verge of dying — for many years. They made a clear evaluation of the dangers," he explained. "Obviously I'm not a doctor, so we have to trust them," he added.

19:00 Alexei Navalny's flight from Omsk to Germany has been delayed until Saturday morning due to the demands of the German Air Carriers' Union, the regional ministry of health said.

The Russian news agency TASS reported the health officials as saying: "The departure will be delayed until the morning of August 22. This is due to the requirements of the German Air Carriers' Union, which regulates the working conditions of the flight crew. Before a long flight pilots need to rest," the report says.

"After the decision to transport Alexei Navalny, at the request of his relatives, all the necessary documents were prepared to one of the clinics in Germany. Yulia Borisovna Navalna signed a statement with a request to transport her husband, which indicated that she was warned about the possibility of deterioration of his condition during the flight."

18:25 Alexei Navalny is Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent. To get an idea of what makes him tick and why he seems to be a constant thorn in the Kremlin's side, click here.

17:35 The Russian news agency TASS has reported that the head physician of the Omsk hospital, Alexander Murakhovsky, said studies carried out in three laboratories did not reveal signs of poisoning in Navalny.

17:25 Jaka Bizilj, founder of Cinema for Peace, has told DW TV that the NGO is preparing to fly Alexei Navalny out of Omsk to Berlin, "probably within the next 12 hours."

"We want to fly as quick as possible. But obviously we need some permissions, medical preparations."

Navalny just before boarding
Alexei Navalny, center, and his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, foreground left, pose for a selfie inside a bus on their way to an aircraft at an airport outside Tomsk. Within hours he was rushed to hospitalImage: picture-alliance/AP/Gluchinskiy

16:00 The hospital in Siberia treating Navalny has given the green light for his transfer to Germany. The decision was made after agreeing to a request from Navalny's family, asking for him to be relocated.

"We... took the decision that we do not oppose his transfer to another hospital, the one that his relatives indicate to us," the deputy chief doctor at the Omsk hospital, Anatoly Kalinichenko, told reporters.

The doctor said Navalny's condition had "stabilized" and his wife and brother "took the risks on themselves" for moving him.

15:45 US presidential candidate Joe Biden has spoken out on the suspected poisoning of Navalny. In doing so, Biden also took a sideswipe at President Donald Trump over his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Biden tweeted: "Donald Trump continues to cozy up to Russia while Putin persecutes civil society and journalists. Now, opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a coma after being poisoned. It's unacceptable. Unlike Trump, I'll defend our democratic values and stand up to autocrats like Putin."

15:20 The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has responded to Navalny's lawyer, who earlier appealed to the Strasbourg Court to intervene in moving his client from Siberia to Germany.

A spokesperson for the ECHR said: "The request for an interim measure asks that Mr Navalny be allowed to be transported to the Charite hospital in Berlin for treatment as he otherwise faces a risk to his life or health."

The court confirmed the issue will be treated as a matter of urgency, but it is not possible to say when a ruling will be issued.

Germany ready to help Navalny

14:30  German doctors who gained access to Navalny earlier on Friday, have said that he is in a fit state to be airlifted to Berlin, according to the activist organisation that sent the plane to retrieve the opposition leader.

"We heard back from the German medical team that they are able and willing to fly Mr Navalny to Berlin, and that this is also the wish of his family," the Cinema for Peace Foundation said in a statement.

"The Russian authorities state that they consulted with the German doctors and that it is not safe for him to travel. This is incorrect," the statement continued.

14:20 Navalny's team have suggested Alexander Murakhovsky, the head doctor at the hospital treating Navalny in the city of Omsk, is "not a doctor, but United Russia. And this is a really important clarification!"

13:55 Aides of Alexei Navalny have applied to the European Court of Human Rights to facilitate his medical transfer from Siberia to Germany.

His team released a video saying: "We apply to the European Court of Human Rights for urgent measures according to the 39th paragraph of the Rules of the Court."

The YouTube clip continued: "We demand Russian authorities to stop obstructing Navalny's evacuation to the clinic with proper medical treatment. Delaying the evacuation can result in irrecoverable harm to his life and health."

13:45 Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, is convinced that the decision not to allow him to travel due to his medical condition is merely a smokescreen to "cover up" a crime.

She tweeted: "He will not be "treated" in Omsk, he will be in a stable critical condition, in a coma, because no one here is interested in saving him. Only in covering up the crime."

In a separate tweet, Yarmysh said: "German doctors, after examining Alexei Navalny, came to the conclusion that he is transportable and the equipment of their aircraft allows him to be safely, immediately transported to Berlin to the Charite University Hospital in accordance with the wishes of Julia Navalny."

13:30 More comments have emerged from Leonid Volkov's press conference in Berlin where he has shed light on the circumstances surrounding the decision not to allow him to travel to Germany as an air ambulance waited on standby.

Volkov said doctors had changed their minds about letting Navalny fly after security officials intervened: "It was a moment when the medical staff, the people in the white robes, were literally substituted by people in grey suits in their office," Navalny's right hand man told reporters, naming Russia's FSB security service.

He added: "What was the factor that influenced that this young and sporty man to this extent that he was nearly dead and had to be put in a coma and on a ventilator to be stabilized is still unclear."

12:45  The chemical substance found in samples taken from Navalny's hair and hands could have remained after contact with a plastic cup, the press service of the Omsk Oblast Department of Internal Affairs informed journalists on Friday, said Russia's Health Ministry.

This substance is added to polymers to increase elasticity, the police explained.

12:40 Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, has tweeted that his wife is being forcibly prevented from seeing him. "Yulia Navalnaya is not allowed to see Alexei by force," Yarmysh wrote.

12:30 German doctors have gained access to Navalny in hospital, said an associate of the Russian opposition leader.

"The German doctors who came on this flight, from Nuremberg, who were refused to get access to this patient finally just got access to him several minutes ago,'' Leonid Volkov said.

Navalny's team had prepared to transport him to a German hospital, but local doctors refused to authorize the transfer.

"This is a positive sign that this decision that he is not transportable, not allowed to board this aircraft, might be reversed," added Navalny's chief of staff.

While this was an "optimistic sign," Volkov said Navalny's team was still lacking "independent data'' on his condition. They are standing by their demand that he needs to be brought to Germany for examination.

"We are still very far away from having this situation resolved,'' he added.

11:40 Navalny's wife Yulia Navalnaya has published a letter calling on Vladimir Putin to allow him to leave the country.

"At present my husband Alexei Anatolievich Navalny is in the City Clinical Emergency Hospital № 1 of Omsk in a serious condition. I believe that Alexei Navalny needs qualified medical care in the Federal Republic of Germany," she wrote. 

"I am officially applying to you for permission to transport Alexei Navalny to the Federal Republic of Germany."

The letter was published on Navalny's Twitter account and sent directly to the Kremlin, his supporters said.

11:28 A group of German doctors have been seen arriving at the hospital.

Earlier, the press service of the Omsk Ministry of Health said that Omsk doctors had invited the German medical team into the hospital.

"We also invited German specialists, who arrived in Omsk by air ambulance, to get acquainted with the patient's condition and study the results in our clinic. At present, they are on their way to us," it quotes head doctor Alexander Murakhovsky as saying.

11:24 The editor-in-chief of state-run channel RT, Margarita Simonyan, has advised people to carry candy to avoid falling into trouble.

Simonyan said she suffers from drops in blood sugar and carries a Rafaello to avoid falling ill, implying Navalny could easily have avoided his fate had he eaten some sugar.

Navalny let out screams of pain as he fell ill on plane, according to witnesses, forcing the pilot to land. He quickly fell into a coma and is now in a serious condition.

Simonyan has led RT since 2005. Doctors have said Navalny was not poisoned, but instead suffered from a metabolic disorder.

11:06 Navalny's personal doctor said she does not trust the verdict of the Omsk doctors, who said he was suffering from a metabolic disorder (see 10:24 update). 

"A metabolic disorder can be caused by a huge number of diseases. It's a condition, not a diagnosis," Anastasia Vasilyeva wrote on Twitter.

"Again they take us for idiots: they say intelligent common words, but we can't establish the cause of coma and the diagnosis."

She repeated her opinion that Navalny was poisoned. "It's a poisoning that has caused a severe metabolic disorder. A despicable substitution of terms," Vasilyeva said.

"If the diagnosis is just a 'metabolic disorder,' then why isn't Alexei released to Berlin? Because they are waiting three days so that there are no traces of poison left in the body, and in Europe it will no longer be possible to identify this toxic substance."

10:48 The German government has said it is in contact with the Kremlin to find a solution to Navalny's "humanitarian emergency."

"We are already in contact with Russian authorities so that we can contribute to a professional and transparent solution to this humanitarian emergency," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told reporters in Berlin.

She said the flight to Omsk was privately organized, and that the German government was not behind it.

Earlier, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that the German government continues to advocate for the best possible medical care for Navalny.

"The most important priority is, of course, that Mr. Navalny's life can be saved and that he can recover," Seibert said in Berlin. "We hope that any medical aid that can hopefully save him will be given to him."

He said that there was a strong suspicion of poisoning and that the circumstances of the case must be fully and transparently investigated." 

10:43 The European Commission has demanded a swift investigation into the cause of Navalny's illness.

"We are very worried about Alexei Navalny's health following his suspected poisoning yesterday," EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs
and Security Policy Nabila Massrali said. 

"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."

10:42 Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller has said Navalny is welcome to come to the city for treatment.

"If Mr Navalny would like to be treated in Berlin and he can come to Berlin, the Charite hospital is of course available," Mueller told DPA news agency.

10:39 Press secretary Peskov has ruled out allowing Navalny to leave as long as doctors recommend against it. He said Russian doctors were working with the recently arrived German medics, but did not elaborate on the extent of this collaboration. 

"Our doctors invited the doctors from Germany to visit the hospital, to take part in the consultation with our doctors, to get all the information about the methods of treatment, available tests and so on," Peskov told reporters.

"As for the air transportation, the attending physician, who is responsible for the patient's state of health, maintains his view that it is not fully known what caused his illness, we only state that the patient became ill on the plane after it gained altitude," said Peskov.

He said the attending physician believes that transportation by may pose a threat to his health. "This is exclusively a medical matter."

The Omsk health ministry quoted his attending physician as saying: "Navalny's condition is considered to be unstable. During takeoff and landing, instability can increase in the form of hemodynamic disorders, as well as convulsive syndrome. Therefore, the consilium has decided that there is no possibility to take risks. Although his general condition has slightly improved."

10:34 Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov has told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not discuss Navalny with European leaders, and that Russian security agencies had no reason to brief him on the matter yet.

"So far, the tests have not actually revealed anything. A set of substances that could cause poisoning has been excluded, but this is not exhaustive. These are very complex toxicology tests and it takes time to perform them — not in 24 hours or two. There is no result yet," said Peskov.

10:30 The Lithuanian Foreign Minister has joined a growing chorus of accusations that Russia is refusing to evacuate Navalny because it wants to cover up the fact he was poisoned.

"Authorities intentionally delay with diagnosis and deny Alexey's transportation to German clinic. Typical example of Kremlin's attitude towards human life. Looks like attempt to hide traces," Linas Linkevicius wrote on Twitter.

10:27 Chief doctor Murakhovsky has addressed the finding of a chemical in Navalny, saying they found a common industrial chemical on his clothing and fingers that is commonly found and probably came from a plastic cup. The director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, had earlier said that doctors had discovered a "lethal substance" that posed a threat not only to Navalny but also those around him.

The chief doctor said medical examination had revealed no trace of oxybutyrates or barbiturates (sedatives).

10:24 Health authorities have now released a diagnosis for Navalny, saying he was suffering a metabolic problem.

"As of today, we have working diagnoses. The main one is a disturbance of the carbohydrate balance, that is, a metabolic disorder," said Alexander Murakhovsky, chief physician at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1.

According to him, "it may have been caused by a sharp drop in blood sugar in the plane, which led to the loss of consciousness."

10:19 Navalny's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, has said that claims that his family had been given a diagnosis are false. "Yule and Oleg Navalny haven't been informed about Alexei's diagnosis, contrary to the statement of doctors. What they were told is a set of symptoms that can be interpreted in different ways. Doctors are still unable to determine the cause of Alexei's condition," she tweeted.

09:35 German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has reiterated that Berlin stands ready to treat Navalny. 

"We have made available that he can be treated in Berlin. That offer stands. But it is difficult for us to assess whether he can be transported from a medical standpoint," he said.

09:23 The United Nations human rights office has expressed its concerns about Navalny. 

When asked about reports that Navalny not having access to his person doctor, UN human rights spokesman Liz Throssell said: "Reports of what has happened to Alexei Navalny are very concerning and very worrying ... It is important that he get all adequate care that he needs to be able to make a recovery."

09:15 European Council President Charles Michel has expressed concern Navalny in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

In response, Putin told Michel that Navalny felt ill, and had good medical care, according to a spokesperson for Michel.

08:27 Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has said on Twitter: "We need to be 100% sure that safety of Alexei Navalny is guaranteed." He said Poland supports the efforts to provide Navalny with the best available treatment and that he was concerned about the decision not to let him leave the country.

08:24 The US embassy in Russia says if Navalny was poisoned, then the perpetrators should be held to account.

"If true, the suspected poisoning of Russian oppositionist Aleksey Navalny represents a grave moment for Russia, and the Russian people deserve to see all those involved held to account," spokeswoman Rebecca Ross said, using a different spelling for Navalny.

08:22 The head doctor at the Omsk hospital says doctors have found "no trace" of poisonous substances in Navalny. 

"So far no poison has been identified in the blood and urine, there is no trace of its presence," Anatoly Kalinichenko told journalists in Omsk.

"The diagnosis of 'poisoning' is still there in the back of our minds, but we do not believe that the patient suffered poisoning," he said. He told reporters that a diagnosis had been given to his family, but that he could not disclose it to reporters. 

"The patient's condition is unstable, it is advisable to refuse any transportation."

08:10 Russian doctors found a "lethal substance" that poses a threat not only to Navalny but also those around him, the director of his organiztion has claimed. Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, told reporters that police alerted him to the discovery of an unspecified lethal substance while he was in the office of the chief doctor.

Speaking to reporters at Omsk hospital, he claimed that police had said everyone should be in protective suits as the substance was so dangerous.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

08:05 Welcome to DW's live coverage of Alexei Navalny. Here is the current situation: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on Thursday, forcing his plane to land at Omsk, in Siberia. He was rushed to hospital but fell into a coma.

A plane organized by German NGO The Cinema for Peace Foundation has landed in the Siberian city of Omsk, ready to take Navalny to Berlin.

However, Russian doctors are refusing permission for the comatose patient to leave the country, saying he is too ill. His supporters accuse doctors of taking orders from the Kremlin and not acting in his best interests. They accuse authorities of wanting to cover up the fact he was poisoned.

For now, Navalny is still in hospital in Omsk. Doctors say his condition improved slightly overnight, but he is still in a serious condition.

ed, aw, jsi/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP, Interfax, AFP)