After far more drama and delay than was necessary, Russian political dissident and Putin critic Alexei Navalny is finally in a hospital in Germany. Doctors there say that the flight was uneventful in terms of impacting the patient’s health and while he remains in a coma, he is now in stable condition and remains under observation. Multiple medical tests are being conducted and the doctors at Berlin’s Charite hospital told the media they would not be commenting on Navalny’s condition, diagnosis or prognosis until those tests are completed. (Associated Press)
Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning, arrived in Berlin on a special flight Saturday for treatment by specialists at the German capital’s main hospital.
“Navalny is in Berlin,” Jaka Bizilj, of the German organization Cinema For Peace, which organized the flight, told The Associated Press. “He survived the flight and he’s stable.”
After touching down shortly before 9 a.m. at a special area of the capital’s Tegel airport used for government and military flights, Navalny was taken by ambulance to the downtown campus of Berlin’s Charite hospital.
The hospital later issued a statement saying extensive tests were being carried out on Navalny, and doctors would not comment on his illness or treatment until those were completed.
So at least for the moment, Navalny appears to be as close to “safe and sound” as could be expected under the circumstances. His spokesperson continues to insist he was poisoned and went on to say that the Russian government pressured the doctors in Omsk, Siberia to delay his release to mask any evidence of poisoning. The Russians counter by saying that the activist needed to be stabilized before it would be safe to transfer him.
We’re still left with the question I asked yesterday. Was Navalny poisoned or not? His spokeswoman’s suspicions may be well-founded. If we’re assuming that he was poisoned, the attack almost certainly took place early Thursday morning if not Wednesday night (depending on the type of poison and how it was administered). It’s now Saturday morning, so at least two full days have passed.
The WHO’s guidance on treating potential cases of poisoning indicates that there’s a definite shelf life for toxicology tests. They recommend that the collection of specimens for testing be done in a matter of hours after ingestion, though in some cases the tests may produce useful results after a day or possibly two. Urine and stomach contents are the two most productive types of specimens to collect, but, again, they need to be taken quickly and stored under the correct conditions.
Urine samples lose the ability to reveal toxins rapidly because the urinary tract empties itself so quickly. Stomach contents are a good source for samples that are ingested via eating or drinking, but after a short period of time, metabolites begin to flood the stomach and can render the samples far less useful for testing. Navalny’s system has been churning for at least two full days now, so it may be challenging to determine what precisely caused his illness. But we’re still not hearing any medical experts weighing in and agreeing with the Russians that it was likely a case of hypoglycemia. Unless he has Type 1 diabetes and was completely off his meds, it seems unlikely that he could drop into a coma within 12 hours.
In any event, it sounds like Navalny’s odds of survival have just gone up considerably, along with the world’s chances of finding out what actually happened to him. But even if it can be definitively proven that he was poisoned, the odds of anyone in Vladimir Putin’s orbit being held accountable for the crime remain Slim to none and Slim is packing his bags to leave town.