The parade of strange deaths in Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues apace, and now might include whatever international standing the quasi-tsar has left. As Russia tried to shut down protests over the attempted assassination of dissident Alexei Navalny by imprisoning thousands, Navalny’s 55-year-old doctor dropped dead “suddenly.” Coincidence, or did Sergey Maximishin find something out regarding Navalny’s poisoning?
Or … does Russian medicine just stink, as Navalny’s chief aide suggests?
“With regret, we inform you that…the deputy chief physician for anesthesiology and resuscitation of the emergency hospital №1, assistant of the department of Omsk State Medical University, PhD of medical sciences Maximishin Sergey Valentinovich suddenly passed away,” the hospital said in a statement, which did not mention a cause of death.
A spokeswoman from Omsk’s regional health ministry told CNN on Friday that according to “preliminary data” Maximishin had died as a result of a heart attack. She would not provide further details. …
Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, confirmed Maximishin was in charge of treating the opposition leader. “Sergey Maximishin was the head of department that treated Alexey Navalny and was in charge of his treatment — specifically his medically induced coma,” Volkov told CNN.
“(Maximishin) knew more than anyone else about Alexey’s condition so I can’t dismiss possibility of foul play,” he added.
“However Russia’s health care system is very poor and it’s not uncommon for doctors of his age to suddenly die. I doubt there will any investigation into his death,” Volkov continued.
The Russian health-care system might be “very poor,” but it probably doesn’t explain the tendency for Putin’s political opponents to wind up wearing Novichok underwear or falling out of windows. However, Volkov is almost certainly right that Maximishin’s death won’t get investigated. Not by Putin’s security forces, anyway.
That in part is what is driving the massive protests against Putin over Navalny’s arrest. Diplomats from other countries had begun attending the rallies against Putin’s regime, either out of solidarity with the cause or just to observe the regime’s response for later diplomatic discussions. Putin booted several of them out of the country earlier today:
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Friday it was expelling diplomats from Sweden, Poland and Germany for attending a rally in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The announcement came as the European Union’s top diplomat told Russia’s foreign minister that the treatment of Navalny represents “a low point” in the relations between Brussels and Moscow.
The ministry said diplomats from Sweden and Poland in St. Petersburg and from Germany in Moscow took part in what it called “unlawful” rallies on Jan. 23. Tens of thousands of people across Russia took to the streets that day to protest the arrest of Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent critic.
The diplomats were declared “persona non grata” and were required to leave Russia “shortly,” a ministry statement said.
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who met earlier Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said before the session that “our relations are under a severe strain, and the Navalny case is a low point in our relations.”
Both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron spoke a few minutes ago to condemn the expulsions and to warn of retaliatory actions. That apparently won’t include the Nordstream 2 pipeline, at least not for now, but clearly the relationship is deteriorating quickly:
“I condemn in the strongest terms, from beginning to end, what has happened here — from the poisoning [of Navalny] to … the expulsion of diplomats. I think diplomatic tensions cannot be solved in this way and I declare my solidarity with the three countries whose diplomats have been expelled,” Macron said, adding that dialogue with Moscow was still important for “peace, security and stability” in Europe.
“I can only agree with this,” Merkel said, adding: “We consider what happened to [Navalny] to be far from the rule of law. We condemn his imprisonment and now also the expulsion of diplomats from Germany, Poland and Sweden.”
“We also … reserve the right to continue sanctions [against Russia], especially against individuals,” Merkel added. …
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also condemned the expulsions, saying the decision “further damages relations with Europe,” and that by attending the protest the German diplomat “was solely fulfilling his duty under the [Vienna Convention] to obtain information by lawful means about developments on the ground.”
“If the Russian Federation does not reconsider this step, it will not go unanswered,” he added.
The Nordstream 2 project is almost complete and won’t be easily derailed, even though it might be the most effective way to make Putin feel pain over his increasingly explicit gangster actions. However, everyone at this press conference felt the need to start talking about the importance of energy independence from Russia, which suggests that such actions may not be far off. Nice economy ya got there, Vlad … shame if something happened to it.
One has to wonder just how isolated the rest of Russia will allow themselves to get under Putin. He has built a regime that is strong internally, so it would be no easy task to topple him. The street protests could eventually create that kind of pressure, but the diplomatic isolation Putin’s now courting might bring pressure from the oligarchs who back him up if it results in too much lost business. “Energy independence” is a big warning to the elite in Russia that the day may come sooner than they think where Putin becomes more costly than he’s worth.