German doctors treating Alexei Navalny said Monday that their findings indicate the Russian opposition activist was poisoned with a substance that can damage the nervous system before falling into a coma last week.
Berlin’s Charité hospital said in a statement that Navalny had been intoxicated with a type of substance called a cholinesterase inhibitor, although they haven’t determined the specific substance.
The doctors have treated Navalny with the antidote atropine. He is still in a coma after becoming sick in Russia last week and being rushed to Germany for treatment. His condition is serious although “there is currently no acute danger to his life,” the statement said.
Long-term effects of the substance, especially on the his nervous system can’t be ruled out, it said.
“The suspicion is that Mr. Navalny was poisoned given that unfortunately recent Russian history has had several such suspected cases,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told journalists Monday. “Because one can say with near certainty that it was a poisoning attack, protection is necessary,” Seibert added.
Navalny, 44, felt unwell on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow last Thursday. His associates immediately said he was poisoned after drinking black tea at an airport cafe.
The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where doctors said he was too unstable to be moved and said his condition may have been caused by low blood sugar, not poison. On Monday they told a press conference that they saved his life and denied operating under political pressure.
His supporters accused authorities of stalling and buying time for any substance to leave his system. On Friday, Navally’s wife Yulia appealed to the Kremlin directly, and on Saturday officials consented to him being airlifted to Berlin where he is currently being treated.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said in a tweet Monday they have filed a complaint about Navalny’s poisoning with police in Tomsk and Moscow’s investigative committee, but there has been no decision about launching a criminal probe into what happened to him yet.
Meanwhile, elements of Russia’s tightly-controlled state media have been exploring the narrative that Navalny may have had a lot to drink the previous night and took some kind of hangover pill the next day.
This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates. Reuters contributed to this report.
Carlo Angerer, Andy Eckardt and Alexander Smith contributed.