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Navalny To Be Evacuated To Berlin Hospital, As Russian Officials Give Their OK

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Yulia Navalnaya, wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, says she has been blocked from seeing her husband and from moving him to a clinic in Berlin.
Dimitar Dilkoff , AFP via Getty Images

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, says she has been blocked from seeing her husband and from moving him to a clinic in Berlin.

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in a coma from an apparent poisoning, will be evacuated from Siberia and taken to a hospital in Berlin, his spokeswoman and his physician say.

Dr. Anastasy Vasilyeva tweeted that she is in disbelief that the situation finally seems to be resolved, after doctors at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1 reversed their initial refusal to release Navalny for the trip to Germany. The doctors had insisted his condition was too unstable for travel.

Navalny remains in a coma. An emergency medical plane will soon take him to Berlin's Charité hospital, according to spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who was traveling with the politician Thursday when he suddenly fell ill. She added that his departure is likely at least seven hours away.

The breakthrough came after Navalny's wife, Yulia, sent a letter to the Kremlin Friday, formally asking to move one of President Vladimir Putin's biggest critics from the Siberian hospital. At the time, the special evacuation plane was already waiting to take the politician to be cared for by specialists in Germany.

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"The patient is in stable condition," Anatoly Kalinichenko, a deputy chief physician at the Omsk hospital, said late Friday, according to Interfax. He added, "Having the request from relatives to allow him to be transported somewhere, we have at this point decided that we do not object to his transfer to another hospital, as will be indicated by his relatives."

Yarmysh and others in Navalny's camp have accused doctors in Omsk of having no interest in treating him, but in covering up an attempt on his life.

A clearly frustrated Yulia Navalny spoke to the media outside the hospital earlier Friday, calling the situation "outrageous" and saying that it is "clear authorities are trying to hide something from us. We demand they let us take him to doctors we trust," according to a translation by journalist Oliver Carroll of The Independent.

German doctors in Omsk were allowed to visit the hospital on Friday, but Yulia Navalny was not permitted to speak to them in person — witnesses say the doctors were whisked out of the facility and driven away. Police and security officials blocked journalists and Navalny's allies from approaching the vehicle.

Yarmysh posted a video from inside the hospital showing what she said were officers turning Yulia Navalny away when she went in search of the doctors. Some of those men were in plainclothes; others wore fatigues.

After the German doctors left, Yarmysh said via Twitter that despite the Russian doctors' statements, they had determined Navalny could be safely transferred to Berlin via the specially equipped plane.

"The plane that departed from Nuremberg to pick up Navalny was organized by the Cinema for Peace foundation," The Moscow Times reports. "The German NGO had previously airlifted Pussy Riot activist Pyotr Verzilov to Germany after he suffered a suspected poisoning in 2018."

On Friday, Alexander Murakhovsky, the chief physician at the Omsk hospital, said the staff has diagnosed Navalny with a metabolic disorder, linked to a drop in blood sugar.

"This is really contradictory information because officials have told Navalny's colleagues that, in fact, a toxic substance had been found and that it's so poisonous that people around him have to wear protective suits," NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

The diagnosis presents a paradox, said Vasilyeva, Navalny's doctor who flew to Omsk on Thursday. If Navalny is suffering from a blood sugar imbalance rather than exposure to a potentially lethal toxin, she said, why not allow him to be moved to Berlin's Charité hospital?

Accusing Murakhovsky of "mean-spirited doublespeak," Vasilyeva said via Twitter that the metabolic disorder was caused by poison — and she offered her own explanation for the delay in approving his transfer.

"If he's been diagnosed with nothing more than a metabolic disorder, why not let Alexei go to Berlin? This is because they're waiting for three days so that his system clears the poison and it becomes impossible to detect in Europe the presence of a toxic substance in his body," Vasilyeva said, according to a translation by the Interfax news agency.

Both Vasilyeva and Yarmysh posted images from inside the Omsk hospital, seeking to counter officials who say conditions there are no worse than at the Charité clinic. Their photos show battered walls and hallways, and conditions that look to be less than pristine.

Navalny's aides and family say he was poisoned when he drank tea at an airport in Tomsk before taking off for Moscow on Thursday morning. He lapsed into unconsciousness soon afterward, forcing an emergency landing in Omsk — and prompting widespread speculation that yet another Putin foe had been poisoned.

Navalny, 44, is a powerful force for Russia's opposition, with a large online following that has grown despite scant coverage of him in state-approved media channels. He rose to fame by investigating corruption and mobilizing against Putin's regime — and he attempted to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential election but was barred from doing so.

This is the second time Navalny has possibly been poisoned. The first instance came last summer, when he was hospitalized days after being jailed for calling for street protests.

A number of Kremlin foes have been poisoned or killed during Putin's 20 years in power. Recent high-profile cases include the use of a Novichok nerve agent to poison former KGB spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the U.K. But Navalny's possible poisoning also brings to mind the targeted killing of Kremlin critic and former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died after drinking tea that was laced with polonium-210 in a London hotel.

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