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Kremlin Claims German Doctors 'Rushing' To Say Navalny Was Poisoned

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Aleksei Navalny, who has exposed rampant corruption at the highest levels in Russia, has suffered physical attacks in the past.

MOSCOW -- The Kremlin has said that there was no immediate need to open a probe into how Aleksei Navalny fell gravely ill -- claiming that German doctors treating the Russian opposition leader were "rushing" to use the word poisoning.

The Charite hospital treating Navalny since he was medically airlifted to Germany at the weekend said on August 24 that its tests indicate he was "poisoned."

The Berlin hospital said the anti-corruption campaigner and staunch opponent of President Vladimir Putin is in an intensive-care unit and is still in an induced coma. His health situation "is serious but there is currently no acute danger to his life," the hospital said.

Following the German doctors' announcement, Western countries and the European Union called on Russia to investigate Navalny's suspected poisoning and hold the perpetrators accountable.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on August 24 that the German clinic had not conclusively identified the substance behind Navalny's illness.

Peskov said it was unclear to the Kremlin why the German doctors were, in his words, "rushing" to use the word poisoning.

"We don’t understand why our German colleagues are in such a hurry to use the word 'poisoning,'" he said.

"If the substance is identified and if it is determined that it is poisoning, then, of course, this will be a reason for investigation," Peskov said.

Navalny's supporters have blamed the Kremlin and Putin personally for the incident. But Peskov said that there was "no way such accusations can be true," calling them "idle talk" and adding, "We have no intention of taking them seriously."

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Navalny, 44, fell ill on August 20 during a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow.

The plane made an emergency landing in Omsk, where doctors put him into an induced coma.

Navalny was flown via commercial air ambulance from Omsk to Berlin on August 22 after a day of insistence by Russian doctors that he was too ill to fly.

Navalny's wife had suggested medical treatment in Germany for her husband -- who had previously been attacked with a chemical that left permanent eye damage and had a bout of suspected poisoning in Russian custody in the past -- would be more reliable, effective, and transparent.

On August 24, the Charite hospital issued a statement saying that "clinical findings indicate intoxication by a substance from the group of active substances called cholinesterase inhibitors."

Cholinesterase inhibitors, also known as anti-cholinesterase, are a broad range of chemicals that are found in several drugs but also in some pesticides and nerve agents.

Russian doctors who treated Navalny contradicted the German colleagues' statement.

The head of Moscow's Bureau of Forensic Medicine, Sergei Shigeyev, said on August 25 that Germany did not appear to have enough evidence to claim that Navalny had been poisoned.

Shigeyev said it was "premature" to come to that conclusion without identifying a specific poison, according to comments carried by Russian state news agency TASS.

"Cholinesterase activity varies significantly among different people, particularly due to certain chronic diseases," Shigeyev said.

The management of the Omsk hospital said it will look into why the results of their tests differ from German test results, while denying that medical personnel there had come under outside pressure from authorities.

"We treated the patient and we saved him. There was no interference in the treatment of the patient and there could not be any," Aleksandr Murakhovsky, the head doctor at Omsk Emergency Hospital No. 1, said on August 24.

According to a Russian newspaper report, Navalny had been under surveillance by Russian federal security agents during his recent trip to Siberia that preceding his illness.

Colleagues and supporters have said Navalny might have been poisoned when he drank tea purchased at the Tomsk airport.

The United States and France on August 25 joined international calls on Russia to conduct a swift investigation into the suspected poisoning.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, said the authorities should launch “an immediate, comprehensive, and transparent investigation...that holds the parties behind this act responsible.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later said that the United States is "deeply concerned" about preliminary findings that Navalny was poisoned.

"If the reports prove accurate, the United States supports the EU’s call for a comprehensive investigation and stands ready to assist in that effort," he said in a statement.

The French Foreign Ministry said that those responsible for “this criminal act” must be identified and brought to justice."

Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell have issued similar pleas.

Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, announced that one of its committees will probe whether "foreign states" were behind the alleged poisoning.

"The State Duma security committee will be instructed to analyze what happened in order to understand whether this was an attempt on the part of foreign states to harm the health of a Russian citizen to fuel tensions inside Russia, as well as to formulate fresh accusations against our country," Vyacheslav Volodin said in a statement.

Navalny, who has exposed rampant corruption at the highest levels in Russia, has suffered physical attacks in the past.

He endured chemical burns to one of his eyes in 2017 after he was assaulted with antiseptic dye.

In July 2019, Navalny was given a 30-day jail term after calling for unauthorized protests. During that jail sentence, he was taken to a hospital with severe swelling of the face and a rash, and later alleged he was poisoned.

He has been jailed several times in recent years, barred from running for president, and had a bid to run for Moscow mayor blocked.

Navalny has been put under police guard in Berlin, with Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert saying that "protection is necessary" for the Russian dissident since poisoning was suspected.

With reporting by dpa, Interfax, Reuters, TASS, Interfax, and AFP
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