Gravely ill Kremlin critic Navalny is evacuated to Germany for treatment

A convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny arrives at Charite Mitte Hospital Complex where he will receive medical treatment in Berlin, Germany August 22, 2020. [Reuters]

Gravely ill Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was evacuated from the Siberian city of Omsk and brought to Germany for medical treatment on Saturday, flown out in an ambulance aircraft that landed at Berlin’s Tegel airport.

Navalny, a long-time opponent of President Vladimir Putin and campaigner against corruption, collapsed on a plane on Thursday after drinking tea that his allies believe was laced with poison.

German doctors flew to Omsk on Friday to evacuate Navalny at the request of his wife and allies who said that the hospital treating him was badly equipped.

“The flight carrying Alexei Navalny has arrived in Berlin... He is in stable condition,” the Cinema for Peace Foundation, which had sent the air ambulance to pick up Navalny, said in a statement.

Before he was flown out, the medical staff at the Omsk hospital said on Friday evening that Navalny’s life was not in immediate danger and he was in an induced coma.

Cinema for Peace said Navalny would be treated at Berlin’s Charite hospital, located about 10 km (6.2 miles) from Tegel airport, and that his family would issue a statement in the coming days after finding out more about his condition.

Live footage on the website of German mass tabloid Bild showed a convoy of ambulance and police vehicles leaving the airport soon after the plane arrived on Saturday morning.

“The condition of Navalny during the flight and after landing is stable,” Slovenian-born activist and filmmaker Jaka Bizilj, the founder of Cinema for Peace, told Bild.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, said the opposition politician’s wife Yulia was on board the evacuation flight.

Navalny’s allies have said they feared authorities in Russia might try to cover up clues as to how he fell ill.

Navalny, 44, has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for more than a decade, exposing what he says is high-level graft and mobilising crowds of young protesters.

Two years ago, Pyotr Verzilov, another anti-Kremlin activist and a member of the Pussy Riot art collective, was treated at the Charite hospital in Berlin after he was poisoned in Moscow.

Medical staff at the Omsk hospital initially said on Friday that while Navalny’s condition had improved slightly overnight he was in too unstable a state to be safely transported out of the country.

They later said they had no objections after the German doctors deemed him fit for travel.

Navalny’s wife sent a letter to the Kremlin directly appealing for it to intervene and grant permission for him to be allowed to be flown out.