Putin critic mysteriously falls ill. Just kidding... he was poisoned ("allegedly")

In case the name isn’t familiar, Alexei Navalny was once described by the Wall Street Journal as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most.” He’s made a career out of battling corruption in Russia with a particular focus on the shady dealings of both Putin and Dmitry Medvedev. And if you know anything about Vladimir Putin, you know that landing on his enemies list doesn’t tend to be good for one’s health.

From all indications, that phenomenon is playing out yet again. Navalny boarded a flight from Siberia to Moscow earlier today, but the plane was forced to make an emergency landing so he could be taken to the hospital. He has suddenly fallen into a coma and is listed in grave condition. According to his spokesperson, he was poisoned. (Associated Press)

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny is in a coma and on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit in Siberia after falling ill from suspected poisoning during a flight, his spokeswoman said Thursday morning.

The 44-year-old foe of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin felt unwell on a flight back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia, Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter.

She said the plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, Siberia, and that Navalny was suffering from “toxic poisoning.”

“He is in a coma in grave condition,” she said on Twitter.

In case there’s any doubt about the seriousness of Navalny’s condition, someone in Russia posted a video allegedly recorded on the plane of flight attendants trying to reach the activist in the plane’s restroom. You hear Navalny moaning in pain quite loudly. Needless to say, consider this your advance warning that some may find the audio from this clip disturbing.

Assuming that the spokesperson’s facts and timeline are accurate, it might not be too difficult to solve this one. She claims that Navalny felt fine the previous evening and this morning and the only thing he had to eat or drink was some tea on the plane. If the poison was in the tea, who besides the cabin attendant would have had access to it? That’s what I’d conclude if we were talking about a flight in the United States, anyway. In Russia? I doubt it’s that much of an open and shut case.

The Russians have a long history of poisoning people and they’ve gotten pretty good at it. They supposedly perfected the infamous poison umbrella that took out Georgi Markov. They’ve also allegedly developed some poisons such as ricin that can have a lengthy delay between ingestion and the onset of symptoms, so Navalny could have been poisoned long before he ever left for the airport, even the day before.

Of course, all of this still technically falls under the category of an alleged poisoning. I suppose it’s still possible that Navalny just at something dodgy before bed and succumbed to a severe allergic reaction the next morning. But… come on, man. This guy has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years and the strongman doesn’t tolerate dissent very well. In retrospect, it’s amazing that the anti-corruption activist has managed to stay alive and (mostly) out of jail for this long.

We should recall that Navalny ran to be Mayor of Moscow some years ago against one of Putin’s hand-picked cronies. The results of that election were dubious to say the least, with widespread allegations of election fraud surfacing. He later tried to run for President, but before he could get his campaign fully underway the Central Electoral Commission (stocked with Putin allies) declared him ineligible. The courts upheld that decision when he appealed.

I suppose you could try to make the argument that Putin wouldn’t dare to take him out because he’s such an obvious target that everyone would immediately know what had happened. But since when has that slowed Vladimir Putin down? He’s a graduate of the KGB and he pretty much epitomizes the image of a person who is a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. Putin will likely pull his usual routine of righteously denying that he would ever do such a thing and launch an “investigation” to find the real killers (assuming Navalny doesn’t recover). Then the matter will either fall down the memory hole or some patsy will be found (probably another Putin critic) and “convicted” of the attack.

Then again, they may just do nothing. Tass is already citing one law enforcement official who said the police are “not considering deliberate poisoning” at this time. They claimed that Navalny probably “drank or consumed something yesterday himself.”

I wish Mr. Navalny the best and hope he manages to recover, but if this is what it looks like I doubt Putin’s people were that sloppy. Of course, the other possibility is that he was deliberately under-dosed and this was just a warning to remind him he should probably keep his mouth shut.