German doctors treating Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny for a suspected poisoning say the dissident is still in an induced coma but his condition is stable and his symptoms are improving.
Navalny, a corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia about a week ago and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after the plane made an emergency landing.
Last weekend, he was transferred to the Charite hospital in Berlin, where doctors found indications of “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his system. Found in some drugs, pesticides and chemical nerve agents, cholinesterase inhibitors block the breakdown of a key chemical in the body, acetycholine, that transmits signals between nerve cells.
He is being treated with the antidote atropine. Charite said Friday that “there has been some improvement in the symptoms caused by the inhibition of cholinesterase activity.”
“While his condition remains serious, there is no immediate danger to his life,” the hospital said. “However, due to the severity of the patient’s poisoning, it remains too early to gauge potential long-term effects.”
Moscow (CNN)Russian opposition leader and outspoken Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was unconscious and on a ventilator in a Siberian hospital Thursday after falling ill from suspected poisoning, his spokesperson said.
Navalny, 44, started feeling unwell while on a return flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter. The plane later made an urgent landing in Omsk, she added.
He only drank black tea in an airport cafe before takeoff, Yarmysh told Russian radio station Echo of Moscow.
“We assume that Alexey was poisoned with something mixed into the tea. It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid,” Yarmysh tweeted.
Navalny remains unconscious and is now connected to a ventilator, Yarmysh said.
Loud groaning can be heard in video footage apparently filmed on the flight taken by Navalny, which was shared on the Baza Telegram channel. More video apparently filmed through the airplane window shows an immobile man being taken by wheeled stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
Navalny has been admitted to theacute poisoning unit ofOmsk emergency hospital No. 1 and is in a “serious condition,” hospital head physician Alexander Murakhovsky said, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
The hospital’s deputy head physician, Anatoly Kalinichenko, speaking to local journalists at a makeshift news conference, later confirmed that Navalny was still in the hospital in a serious condition. He was on a ventilator but was stable, the physician said.
Asked by a journalist if Navalny had been poisoned, Kalinichenko said: “Naturally, poisoning is considered as one of the possible reasons for the deterioration of his state. But apart from this, this could be a number of conditions that started acutely and led to the same clinical reactions. We are working on all of them: excluding, confirming.”
Kalinichenko said he believed doctors would have a diagnosis later Thursday. In the meantime, Navalny’s symptoms are being treated, he said.
Yarmysh tweeted a video of the news conference, saying the deputy head physician had confirmed what was already known. “He said the same: stable serious condition, coma, ventilator. Does not say anything about the diagnosis or whether there is a threat to life,” she said.
In an earlier tweet, Yarmysh said the intensive care unit was full of police officers.
“They try to get an explanation from the doctor. The doctor saw me in the distance in the corridor, said that ‘some things are confidential’ and took the police to another room,” Yarmysh said.
“The evasive reaction of doctors only confirms that this is poisoning,” Yarmysh added. “Just two hours ago, they were ready to share any information, and now they are clearly biding for time and are not saying what they know.”
Health ‘sharply deteriorated’
More details are emerging of the events leading up to Navalny’s hospitalization.
Yarmysh told Russian media outlet Mediazona that Navalny had shown no signs of illness until after they had taken off from Tomsk.
“He said that he was not feeling well and asked me for a napkin, he had perspiration,” Yarmysh told Echo. “He asked me to talk to him because he wanted to concentrate on the sound of the voice. I talked to him, after which a trolley with water came up to us — I asked if water would help him; he said no. Then he went to the toilet, after which he lost consciousness.”
S7 Airlines told TASS that the opposition leader had not eaten or drunk anything during the flight.
“Soon after the takeoff of flight S7 2614 Tomsk-Moscow, the state of health of one of the passengers, Alexey Navalny, sharply deteriorated…. While on board, Alexey did not eat or drink anything,” the company said.
According to S7, the crew “worked quickly and strictly in accordance with the procedures.” The flight attendants immediately reported the incident to the aircraft commander who landed the airliner at the nearest airport.
After refueling, the plane went on to Moscow but two passengers who were flying with Navalny stayed in Omsk, TASS said.
Lawyers representing Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund (FBK) will submit an application to Russia’s Investigation Committee demanding that it open a criminal investigation into his alleged poisoning, FBK lawyer Vyacheslav Gimadi wrote on Twitter.
Gimadi said the application would be filed under Article 277 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Encroachment on the life of a public figure or statesman”).
“There is no doubt that Navalny was poisoned for his political position and activities,” Gimadi said.
He said that despite never suffering from allergies before, he woke up in a detention facility with a dangerous swelling of his face and eyelids. After receiving medical assistance, he was sent back to detention.
Doctors did not find any signs of poisoning after doing analysis on the opposition leader, TASS reported last year.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Navalny’s spokesperson.
CNN’s Zahra Ullah and Anna Chernova reported from Moscow. Mary Ilyushina and Darya Tarasova contributed to this report.
All week, millions of Russians have been voting to reform their constitution, many using polling stations set up on tree stumps, park benches and even car boots.
Giant prize draws have helped entice them to the ballot, with the chance of winning everything from shopping vouchers to a car or flat.
Opposition figures have dismissed the whole process as a farce, stretched over seven days with no proper monitoring or independent scrutiny.
But for the Kremlin the amendments are vital. The vote will clear the way for Vladimir Putin to stay in power up to 2036, if he chooses.
Putin’s vision of Russia
Not that the president mentioned that in his address to the nation ahead of the final day of voting.
“We are voting for the country we want to live in… and which we want to hand down to our children,” Mr Putin declared, standing beneath a giant, ghostly new statue of a Soviet soldier, to underline the “patriotic” theme that runs through this process.
The sovereignty of Russia is supported by our feelings of genuine patriotism… as well as respect for our history, culture, language and traditions
The biggest overhaul of the constitution since 1993, this vote is partly about setting down Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia: spelling out the values and priorities he has established during two decades in the Kremlin.
“Putin can’t just say to himself, ‘I need to do everything possible to stay in power!’,” argues Tatiana Stanovaya, the head of R.Politik, a political think-tank.
“People try to hide the low things they’re doing within something more grandiose and positive. So he says instead, ‘I want to create a great Russia, and stay in power too’.”
What are Russians voting on?
The new constitution includes articles promoting a patriotic education, reiterating the ban on same-sex marriage and adding explicit mention of God – all in line with the increasing cultural conservatism of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Those “ideological” articles, alongside “social” ones like minimum wage guarantees, are the changes actively discussed on state TV and by celebrity endorsers.
By contrast, the amendments allowing Vladimir Putin to restart the clock on his presidency when his current term ends in 2024 – and so run twice more for president – are barely mentioned.
They were left off the initial information on the vote altogether.
Russia’s new constitution
The amendments cover dozens of existing articles, and add several new ones. They fall broadly into three categories and many enshrine things in the constitution that are already federal law:
1: Conservative ideology
Banning any action aimed at the “expropriation” of Russian territory, or calls for that.
Protecting the “historical truth” of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) and banning any “belittling” of the feats of those who fought.
Protection of the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Senior officials barred from holding foreign passports, residency or overseas bank accounts.
Refers to Russians’ faith in God, as handed down by their ancestors.
Pensions to be index-linked.
Minimum wage no less than subsistence minimum income.
Forming a “responsible attitude” to animals.
State Council to set “direction of domestic and foreign policy and socio-economic priorities”.
A person can only hold the presidency for two terms (replacing “two consecutive terms”).
In the case of a person already holding the presidency, previous terms will not count – the so-called “zeroing” of Vladimir Putin’s terms so far.
Yes or No
Voters can only select one of two boxes: accepting or rejecting all of the amendments.
Lobbying for either option is officially banned, but fliers posted to Moscow apartment blocks all called on people to vote “for” the amendments, rather than “on” them.
A much smaller counter-campaign has plastered stickers with Mr Putin’s face around town urging Muscovites to say “No”.
Will the pandemic affect the vote?
A short drive from the capital, on the outskirts of Podolsk, voters were invited to a tent in a car park to make their choice.
Election officials in face visors, masks and white suits were a reminder that this nationwide vote was being held in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Postponed from April, the Kremlin was keen to reschedule as soon as possible.
A poll by the independent Levada Centre in early May reported a slide in Mr Putin’s approval rating to 59% – his lowest ever. The continuing Covid-19 crisis is unlikely to improve things.
So officials have done their utmost to get people out to vote.
An election official in Omsk, Siberia, made national headlines when she won an apartment in the lucky draw. Her protest that she was “just another voter” met with a deeply sceptical response.
There were no prizes in Podolsk, but plenty of enthusiastic pensioners.
“All the amendments suit me!” Galina said, dropping her voting slip into a transparent plastic briefcase decorated with a double-headed eagle.
“The index-linking of pensions, the right to study and work and housing,” she listed as her favourites, although the latter few are not explicitly covered by this reform.
“I like the idea that marriage should only be between a man and a woman,” said Elena, selecting her top amendment.
In her thirties, she also had no problem with Vladimir Putin staying on as president. “He suits us for now,” she said.
Is there much opposition?
In the town centre, beneath a tower block decorated with Russian flags, some younger voters were scornful of the vote.
“What’s the point? Putin will stay forever in any case,” one girl flung over her shoulder.
Maxim said he and “lots of friends” had voted against.
“We’ve had one president for 20 years, and Putin could do another 16 years? I think our country needs something new,” he said.
Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, has published a stream of posts on social media mocking the makeshift nature of the vote and highlighting irregularities.
They include pressure on some to vote and other people discovering their ballot had already been cast for them.
Influential blogger Yury Dud described the vote as “shameful”, in an Instagram post liked by more than a million people. He quoted Vladimir Putin himself in 2008 insisting that it was “absolutely unacceptable” to remain in office for life.
But the blogger hadn’t decided whether to boycott or tick the “No” box.
In fact, this vote is not required by law: the reforms to the constitution were approved by Russia’s parliament back in March.
But the Kremlin is said to want a high turnout and 70% support at this ballot, as a popular mandate to point to in future.
One exit poll already published – something that’s banned at a normal election – suggests it’s well on target.
In any case, the new constitution has already been printed and is on sale in bookshops.
Moscow — President Vladimir Putin eased Russia’s coronavirus control measures Monday even as the country reported yet another day with a record number of new COVID-19 cases. Russia registered 11,656 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total number to 221,344. Moscow remains the focus of the Russian epidemic with more than half of the known infections and deaths registered in the capital region.
In a televised statement, Putin announced an end to the six-week-old “non-working regime” which has kept Russians in jobs deemed non-essential at home. Those workers were permitted by the federal government to return to work from Tuesday. Putin left it up to regional authorities, however, to decide whether to lift or prolong their individual lockdown measures.
“The battle against the epidemic is not over,” Putin said. He claimed the restrictions had helped save thousands of lives and slow down the outbreak in the country.
Authorities in Moscow have already extended self-isolation measures in the capital until the end of May, but have allowed industry and construction work to resume this week. Residents will also be required to wear face masks and gloves in public places.
Nationwide restrictions will remain in place for people over the age of 65, as wells as those with chronic illnesses, and all mass gatherings are still forbidden.
The World Health Organization’s representative in Russia, Melita Vujnovic, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg on Sunday that the country might be nearing the peak of its outbreak.
“The cases are still there but the growth rate is stabilizing,” Vujnovic was quoted as saying. “We do hope, looking at the last few days, that it is on a plateau.”
Russia’s official death toll remains relatively low compared to other states with such a high number of cases, with just 2,009 deaths reported overall. Kremlin critics have raised doubts over the accuracy of the number, however.
Government officials attribute the high number of detected infections and relatively low number of deaths to Russia’s large-scale testing program. Putin said Monday that the daily number of tests carried out would be doubled in May, to reach 300,000.
According to recently released government data, Moscow saw 20% more deaths this April compared to the average for the month. The Civil Registry Office’s numbers revealed that 11,846 people died in Moscow last month, while the city’s 10-year average for April is 9,866, the Moscow Times reported Monday.