German hospital has a different take on Navalny poisoning

The last time we checked in on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, he had finally been transferred from a hospital in Siberia to Berlin’s Charite hospital at the request of his family. While he was still in a coma, the German doctors were hopeful that he could remain in stable condition. The Russians continued to insist that their tests showed no signs of any poisoning, suggesting that the outspoken Putin critic may have been suffering from hypoglycemia. The Germans refused to comment until a full battery of tests could be conducted.

That work is now apparently finished and Vladimir Putin isn’t going to like the results. Far from writing this off as an episode of low blood sugar, the German doctors have concluded that Navalny’s system contains some unspecified cholinesterase inhibitors. These point to poisoning, but an antidote is available and is being given to the patient. (Associated Press)

Tests conducted on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny at a German hospital indicate that he was poisoned, but doctors said Monday he was being treated with an antidote and his life was not in immediate danger.

The Charité hospital said in a statement that the team of doctors who have been examining Navalny since he was flown from Siberia and admitted Saturday have found indications of “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his system.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had personally offered Germany’s assistance in treating Navalny before he was brought to Berlin, said in view of the findings and his “prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, authorities there are now called upon urgently to investigate this crime in detail and in full transparency.”

“Those responsible must be identified and held accountable,” Merkel said.

I’ll confess that I’d never heard of cholinesterase inhibitors before. Upon looking it up, I found that the chemical can “prevent the breakdown of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine or butyrylcholine.” (I didn’t get much further than that because my eyes were glazing over.) This compound is apparently most commonly found in certain pesticides and nerve agents. But it’s also been used in clinical trials of drugs intended to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s. Navalny seems rather young to be in treatment for dementia, but what else would result in this sort of diagnosis?

I suppose it’s at least hypothetically possible that someone was spraying weedkiller near the airport. The AP reports that there are thousands of cases of cholinesterase inhibitor poisoning every year, primarily seen in people using pesticides. But if that were the case there should have been a lot of people dropping like flies. Far more likely is the idea that a concentrated dose of the compound was slipped into Navalny’s tea at the airport. Given the KGB’s highly successful history in poisoning people, the idea doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, does it?

For the time being, the Germans aren’t taking any chances. They have stationed federal agents and municipal police at the hospital and are standing guard over Navalny’s room. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already called on Russia to open an investigation into this matter as a possible assassination attempt, but as of this morning, Russia’s Investigative Committee has yet to take any action. Is anyone really surprised?

Navalny isn’t out of the woods yet. While listed as being in stable condition, he’s still in a coma. And the doctors said they have prepared his family for the possibility that he could suffer long-term neurological damage even if he survives. If we choose to assume that the Kremlin is behind this, Putin may have already succeeded in his goals by simply removing Navalny from the political field of play for the foreseeable future.