BUSINESS + POLITICS
Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic out of Induced Coma after Poisoning
30th September 2020
On August 20th news broke that Alexei Navalny, The Russian “anti-corruption” campaigner and longtime Putin critic, became ill on his flight from Siberia. It was not long before allegations of poisoning were banded about, and the future of Russian politics was called into question.
Mr Navalny and his team were due to leave Siberia after a successful trip meeting local political candidates and volunteers. Those close to him have said that other than a cup of tea at the airport in Tomsk, Navalny did not consume anything that morning. Prior to boarding the flight, fellow passengers noted that he was in good spirits, laughing and joking with those who recognised him. The flight which was bound for Moscow was forced to make an emergency landing in Omsk after Navalny collapsed in the plane toilet at some time between eight and nine am.
Mr Navalny has long been vocal about this lack of trust in the president and his political party, at times calling them “crooks and thieves” and claiming that the system was “sucking the blood out of Russia”. Although Navalny is barred from running for president due to his embezzlement conviction in 2018, charges he vehemently denies, he has long been at the forefront of the anti-establishment campaign. So when his colleagues suggested that something had been “mixed with his tea”, many could be forgiven for thinking that it lay within the bounds of reason.
Of course, this is not the first time critics of Vladimir Putin have fallen ill or died under suspicious circumstances. In 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot four times in the back, in full view of the Kremlin, by an unknown assassin who was never apprehended. Nemtsov, who had at one time publicly supported Putin, later became one of his most prominent critics, organising rallies and protests against him. In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent, died three weeks after “drinking a cup of tea“ that had been laced with polonium-210. Po-210 is a product of radioactive uranium decay, which causes cells in the body to kill themselves and alters the genetic ability of cells to reproduce. A British enquiry later found that Litvinenko was poisoned by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were acting on orders that had “probably been approved by Putin”. It is worth pointing out that not all critics of the Russian president die under suspicious circumstances, but enough well established critics have to foster speculation of Kremlin involvement.
On September 2nd, after Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr. Navalny’s system. This contradicts what was found by doctors in the state run-hospital in Omsk. The deputy chief of the hospital stated that although unconscious and on a ventilator, Navalny was in fact stable. Neither family nor Navalny’s personal doctor was permitted to see him during his time in Omsk. On September 15th, the Kremlin critic released a photo of himself in hospital, saying that he was able to breathe by himself once again and intended to return to Russia once he had recovered.
On September 17th an aide of Navalny announced that traces of the nerve agent used in the poisoning were found on a bottle in his hotel room. This would suggest that he had consumed the agent several hours earlier than previously thought. This has led the European Parliament to call for an international investigation into the poisoning. No such investigation has been launched in Russia.
“After Navalny was airlifted to Berlin for treatment, the German government stated that a military test found “unequivocal proof of a chemical nerve warfare agent of the Novichok group” in Mr Navalny’s system.”
The Navalny poisoning is no longer a feature in mainstream media outlets, nor is it very fresh in the minds of most. But those who possess an interest in the political and business affairs of other nations are once again asking how will this latest attack on the political opposition affect governance in Russia? What does the future hold for political figures in the country?
While technically a democracy, Russia is classified as an “authoritarian” country and even those with no interest in politics can see why… In early January, Putin announced some of the most radical political changes in the past 30 years. These changes could allow him to extend his 20-year reign even after his term ends in 2024. The last person to serve as long as him was Josef Stalin, the famous Russian dictator. Some of the proposed changes suggested for the upcoming referendum include greater government control over judges and security services, future president terms limited to 2 years; while never having possessed a foreign passport or residence permit and having lived in Russia for at least the past 25 years.
These changes would ensure that of the small pool of individuals that this could apply to, none would be able to legally remain president long enough to gather the political leverage or power that Putin has accumulated in two decades. While he is constitutionally mandated to step down in 2024, these changes could ensure a politically relevant future for the 67-year-old. Prior to this the only noticeable change made during his reign was increased police violence on protesters, in an attempt to quell any uprising that might occur. So it is almost safe to assume that Russia in the future will look very similar to Russia presently, with Vladimir Putin taking less of a public stance, but running the country from behind the scenes. While we all watch with great interest and speculation the words of Pyotr Stolypin hold strong “in Russia, every 10 years everything changes, and nothing changes in 200 years“.
There are continuous updates now from Navalny and his staff, as he grows in strength daily. On September 22nd in a satirical post on his Instagram page, Navalny announced: “The ultimate goal of my canny plan was to die in the Omsk hospital and end up in an Omsk morgue, where they would have determined my cause of death as ‘he lived long enough,/ “But Putin outplayed me. He’s no pushover. In the end, I lay in a coma for 18 days like a fool, but I wasn’t able to get my way. The provocation was thwarted!”
Navalny’s condition has improved enough that he has been discharged from acute inpatient care, he is however to remain under supervision as the long term effects of his condition are not yet known. In separate posts on his Instagram page, Navalny has thanked the hospital staff who have taken care of him, and he will no doubt keep the world updated on his progress via the social media platform.
Featured photo by Michał Siergiejevicz