BERLIN (Reuters) – German doctors say on Monday that medical investigations indicate that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is in a Berlin hospital after crashing into a plane in Russia last week, was poisoned.
Medical specialists carry Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on a stretcher in an ambulance en route to an airport before his medical evacuation to Germany in Omsk, Russia August 22, 2020. Alexei Navalny became ill from suspected poisoning en route from Tomsk to Moscow on a plane, which ‘ t made an emergency landing in Omsk. The local hospital that provided medical assistance to Navalny was later able to fly German doctors to Germany for treatment. REUTERS / Alexey Malgavko
Navalny, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had flown to Germany for treatment on Saturday.
The Kremlin said it was unclear what caused Navalny to fall ill and that initial tests did not show he was poisoned because of his helpers.
The Charite hospital in Berlin said a team of doctors there had examined him in detail after his arrival.
“The clinical findings indicate poisoning by a substance from the group of active substances called cholinesterase inhibitors,” the hospital said in a statement.
The specific substance was not yet known, they said. The outcome remains uncertain, but long-term effects, especially for the nervous system, could not be ruled out, it said.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are medicines that can increase the communication between nerve cells in the brain. They are sometimes used to temporarily improve or stabilize the symptoms of people with dementia.
Common side effects of cholinesterase inhibitors include vomiting, muscle cramps, headaches and hallucinations.
Certain chemical classes of pesticides work against bugs by interfering with, or ‘inhibiting’ cholinesterase, but in some situations they can also be toxic, if toxic, to humans.
Navalny crashed into a plane on Thursday after drinking tea on his way to a campaign in Siberia.
Doctors at the Siberian hospital that Navalny first treated said earlier on Monday that they had saved his life, but they found no trace of poison in his system. They had not come under pressure from authorities in dealing with Navalny, they said.
Navalny has been a tornado on the side of the Kremlin for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level grafting and mobilizing crowds of young Protestants.
He has been arrested several times for organizing public meetings and gatherings and sued over his investigation into corruption. He was barred from running in a 2018 presidential election.
The incident could further highlight Russia’s shattered relations with its European and NATO neighbors, who have accused them of attacking dissidents in Europe in the past – accusations that Russia has rejected.
Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said supporters on Monday reported what she described as a suspected poisoning to Russian police and investigative commission as soon as Navalny became ill.
The police and investigative committee were not immediately available for comment.
Additional report by Anton Zverev, Andrey Kuzmin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Additional Reporting by Kate Kelland; Edited by Angus MacSwan and Jon Boyle