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Russia Needs an Investigation into Navalny’s Illness

Kremlin Critic is Fighting for His Life

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia, February 29, 2020. © 2020 AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File

Update (August 21, 2020): According to media reports, on the evening of August 21, Russian doctors in Omsk gave permission for Navalny to be medevaced to Germany for treatment.

Consider this agonizing moment for Yulia Navalnaya. Her husband, Alexei Navalny, is fighting for his life on a ventilator in a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after falling suddenly and desperately ill on a flight from Tomsk, hundreds of kilometers to the east.

Navalny, one of the most prominent critics of the Kremlin, leads a nationwide anti-corruption movement and has presidential ambitions. His YouTube videos – exposing alleged high-level, eye-popping corruption and lavish spending by political elites – draw millions of views. He’s been arrested multiple times. His brother was imprisoned for three years on dubious fraud charges, almost certainly retaliation against Navalny. He’s been physically attacked, nearly losing sight in an eye. The offices of his anti-corruption organization have been raided and fined, eventually closed.

Yulia Navalnaya rushed to Omsk, but she hasn’t been allowed to see him. News reports say that after some delay, doctors flown in from Germany have been allowed to see him.

Reports about Navalny’s illness suggest signs of toxic poisoning. There is a chilling chronology of poisoning by unidentified toxins of other Kremlin critics, including journalist Anna Polikovskaya, artist and publisher Pjotr Verzilov, and opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza. A potential attack on Navalny demands an independent investigation.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Navalny could be treated in their respective countries, and an ambulance plane, hired by a German film producer, landed in Omsk to medevac Navalny to a clinic in Berlin. But doctors in Omsk refused the medevac.

Dubiously, their reasoning has shifted. First it was that Navalny was poisoned with a substance that could endanger others, then that he wasn’t poisoned but was too unstable to be moved. The German doctors who were allowed to examine Navalny reportedly said that he could be transported, but Russian authorities for now are refusing to release him.

Navalny’s family have had to watch, at a distance, after he suddenly become gravely ill, while being denied the chance to see him or ensure that he gets the best possible care. The authorities should immediately ensure that the doctors the family wants can treat Navalny and medevac him if they determine that is in his best interest. And to address the questions swirling about whether Navalny was poisoned, and if the authorities were involved, they should allow a prompt, effective, independent investigation, with public findings.

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