Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the outspoken Kremlin critic believed to have been poisoned for his anti-Putin comments, has been taken out of an induced coma and is responsive, the German hospital treating him announced Monday.
Navalny, one of the most high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell mysteriously ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on Aug. 20 and was taken to a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk after his plane was forced to make an emergency landing.
He was transferred to a German hospital two days later, where doctors said last week there had been signs that the outspoken politician had been poisoned.
Berlin’s Charite hospital said Monday that Navalny’s condition has improved and that he was responding to speech but that “long-term consequences of the serious poisoning can still not be ruled out.”
The German government announced Wednesday that tests performed on samples taken from Navalny positively showed the presence of the nerve agent Novichok.
Novichok, which means “newcomer” in Russian, applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s under the codename Foliant. Some variants of the agent are estimated to be five to eight times more toxic than VX nerve agents, the BBC reported.
According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, experts at the German hospital sought advice from Porton Down, Britain’s secretive laboratory for research on chemical and biological weapons, because of possible similarities with the 2018 Sergei Skripal attack. In that case, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with military-grade Novichok.
The German government’s official statement described the attack on Navalny as an “astounding act” and asked the Russian government to offer an explanation.
In a statement, the laboratory that carried out the toxicology tests said there was “unequivocal evidence of a chemical nerve agent” present.
Russia has denied it has ever tried to silence critics — a denial Kremlin watchers have laughed off as the cases of mysterious illnesses and death have befallen high-profile critics who dare speak out against the government.
Earlier Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office indicated she might be willing to rethink the fate of a controversial German-Russian gas pipeline project if Moscow doesn’t stop stonewalling over Navalny’s poisoning.