A plane carrying a Russian opposition politician who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning has left the Siberian city of Omsk for Germany, according to his spokeswoman.
The plane took off just after 02:00 GMT (8am local time) on Saturday, after more than 24 hours of wrangling over Alexei Navalny’s condition and treatment, with the politician’s allies accusing Russian authorities of trying to stop his evacuation.
Navalny, a 44-year-old politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, was admitted to an intensive care unit in Omsk on Thursday. His supporters believe that tea he drank was laced with poison – and that the Kremlin is behind both his illness and the delay in transferring him to a top German hospital.
Russian doctors say there is no evidence of poisoning, and the Kremlin denied the authorities tried to prevent the transfer from happening.
Even after German specialists arrived on a plane equipped with advanced medical equipment on Friday morning at his family’s behest, Navalny’s physicians in Omsk said he was too unstable to move.
Navalny’s supporters denounced that as a ploy by authorities to stall until any poison in his system would no longer be traceable. The Omsk medical team relented only after a charity that had organised the medevac plane revealed that the German doctors examined the politician and said he was fit to be transported.
Deputy chief doctor of the Omsk hospital Anatoly Kalinichenko then told reporters that Navalny’s condition had stabilised and that physicians “didn’t mind” transferring the politician, given that his relatives were willing “to take on the risks”.
Russia Navalny ‘poisoning’: German doctors allowed access to the politician (1:55)
Navalny was transferred to an ambulance early on Saturday and driven to the airport, his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter.
She tweeted a picture of a plane and said he was on board the aircraft along with his wife, Yulia.
“The plane carrying Alexei is flying to Berlin,” she said. “Many thanks to everyone for their support. The fight for Alexei’s life and health is just beginning … but now at least the first step has been taken.”
Алексея подняли на медицинский борт. Юля с ним pic.twitter.com/nCw5UsalG8
— Кира Ярмыш (@Kira_Yarmysh) August 22, 2020
The Kremlin denied resistance to the transfer was political, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that it was purely a medical decision. However, the reversal came as international pressure on Russia’s leadership mounted.
On Thursday, leaders of France and Germany said the two countries were ready to offer Navalny and his family any and all assistance and insisted on an investigation into what happened. On Friday, European Union spokeswoman Nabila Massrali added that the bloc was urging Russian authorities to allow him to be taken abroad.
Also on Friday, the European Court of Human Rights said it was considering a request from Navalny’s supporters that it urge the Russian government to let the politician be moved.
The most prominent member of Russia’s opposition, Navalny campaigned to challenge Putin in the 2018 presidential election but was barred from running. Since then, he has been promoting opposition candidates in regional elections, challenging members of the ruling party, United Russia.
His Anti-Corruption Foundation has been exposing graft among government officials, including some at the highest level. But he had to shut the foundation last month after a financially devastating lawsuit from a businessman with close ties to the Kremlin.
Navalny fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday and was taken to the hospital after the plane made an emergency landing. His team made arrangements to transfer him to Charite, a clinic in Berlin that has a history of treating famous foreign leaders and dissidents.
Dr Yaroslav Ashikhmin, Navalny’s physician in Moscow, told The Associated Press news agency that being on a plane with specialised equipment, including a ventilator and a machine that can do the work of the heart and lungs, “can be even safer than staying in a hospital in Omsk”.
Al Jazeera and news agencies