Navalny is out of his coma, but not out of the woods

There’s finally been some good news for Russian dissident and Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Or at least some not quite as horrible news, anyway. As you may recall, Navalny was being kept in a medically induced coma while recovering from being poisoned at an airport in Siberia a couple of weeks ago. When he finally arrived at a hospital in Germany, his doctors were guarded in their prognosis, warning that he could still have a long road to an uncertain level of recovery, assuming he survived. Well, he’s now been brought out of the coma and is slowing being weaned off of the respirator they’ve had him on. He’s also reportedly responding to the presence of visitors, so where there’s life there remains hope. (WaPo)

Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last month with a nerve agent similar to the Soviet-era chemical weapon Novichok, was brought out of an induced coma, and his condition has improved, German doctors said Monday.

A statement from the Charité clinic in Berlin said he was responding to voices, but it was too early to know the long-term impact of the poisoning.

The clinic’s statement said that Navalny, an acerbic critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was being weaned off a ventilator.

“Responding to voices” is certainly better than he was a few days ago, but it’s also not a ringing endorsement of his condition. Various medical experts have been weighing in on this and they all seem to be urging as much caution as the German doctors. As we learned only a few days ago, the poison used on Navalny has been identified as a Russian toxin that’s a chemical nerve agent from the Novichok group. That particular flavor of nerve agents is known to have lasting detrimental impacts on the nervous systems of those afflicted by it. Even if Navalny is going to manage anything close to a full recovery he will likely have a long road ahead of him.

The Russians don’t appear to be taking a particularly subtle approach in responding to criticism over this. We’re just learning today that at least three members of Navalny’s team in Novosibirsk, Russia were hospitalized after someone came in and released an unknown substance into their office. The attack was caught on film.

While Mr. Navalny’s long-term prognosis remains unclear, perhaps now is an appropriate time to ask what, if anything, our own leadership should be doing about it. The President has been disappointingly reluctant to weigh in on the subject and went so far this weekend as to say that we “still have no proof” if Navalny was poisoned or not. But that was after the German government had already confirmed the hospital’s findings, saying that they were 100% certain it was a case of poisoning via the Novichok group. It seems unlikely that we wouldn’t also have access to that information.

Even if Trump was going to do something about this, what would that “something” be? Aside from additional sanctions, I’m not sure what more he could do. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been strongly urged to cut off a pipeline deal her country has been developing with Russia, but at least thus far, she’s declined to do so. She has spoken out publicly condemning the Russians for the attack on the dissident. Boris Johnson has condemned the poisoning, along with leaders from Canada, France and Italy.

Our relationship with Russia has been delicate during the best of times and openly adversarial at others. An explosion of economic activity inside of Russia and the rise of a new class of business leaders over the past couple of decades really hasn’t done anything to expand movements toward democracy or true capitalism there, though plenty of people with strong ties to the Kremlin have obviously gotten very wealthy. But Russia has plenty of military and technological muscle and clearly doesn’t much fear the repercussions of taking such actions. As I said above, I don’t see an obvious path that will bring any sort of accountability to Putin over this, nor does he seem particularly bothered by the accusations.

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David Strom 7:00 AM | May 18, 2024