Detained Russian Opposition Leader Suffers Mysterious Ailment

By Patrick Goodenough | July 29, 2019 | 4:17am EDT
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators in Moscow on July 20. He was arrested four days later. (Photo by Maxim Zmeyev/AFP/Getty Images)

( – Four days after one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foremost critics was arrested for calling for unsanctioned protests, Alexei Navalny was admitted to the hospital Sunday suffering from what his doctor suspects is contact with a toxic substance.

Alexei Navalny’s condition is causing concern, not least of all because of past high-profile cases of mysterious attacks on Kremlin critics.

Navalny, a leading anti-corruption campaigner, was arrested on Wednesday and jailed for 30 days for calling for protests in Moscow – where on Saturday more than 1,000 people were detained.

On Sunday he was admitted to a hospital in the city where his lawyer and doctors said they were denied access to his bedside.

His doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, was forced to observe him through a door, and said afterwards in a Facebook post that he had a rash on his neck, chest and back, skin lesions, and an eye discharge.

Vasilyeva said it was “absurd” that she was forced to diagnose him from a doorway, and said it was suspicious that she was not allowed direct access to him.

She said Navalny had never in his life had an allergic reaction – which is the official diagnosis. He reported not having used any new toiletries, and said he had eaten the same food as others in the detention center where he was being held when he fell ill.

“We cannot exclude toxic damage to the skin and mucous was inflicted by an unknown chemical with the aid of a ‘third party,’” Vasilyeva said.

She called for law enforcement and medical authorities to test his bedding, skin, and hair for exposure to toxins.

Also writing on Facebook Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, voiced skepticism too about the allergy diagnosis, saying her client reported never having suffered from allergies in the past.

She said his condition and the hospital’s refusal to allow his lawyer and doctor access to him looked “extremely strange and definitely illegal.”

“An acute allergic reaction to an unknown allergen and swelling of the face of a man who has not once in 43 years of life had allergies,” Mikhailova mused.

Both she and Vasilyeva noted that the chief medical officer of Moscow Clinical Hospital No. 64, Olga Sharapova, happens to be a member of the capital’s city council, the Moscow City Duma (MCD), representing the pro-Kremlin ruling United Russia party.

(Sharapova’s official MCD bio confirms she has held that post at the hospital since 2013.)

The protests Navalny was arrested for encouraging are in response to an electoral commission’s disqualification of dozens of opposition candidates hoping to run for seats in the MCD in September.

On July 20 an estimated 20,000 people demonstrated against the move. Navalny was then arrested on Wednesday, but a further protest took place on Saturday afternoon, marred by clashes with security forces near the offices of the mayor of Moscow.

Moscow police said more than 1,000 people were arrested for taking part in an illegal demonstration, while an independent monitoring group put the number at above 1,300.

Every candidate for the city council’s 45 contested seats was required to obtain 5,000 signatures of residents in the relevant constituency to be eligible to run. The electoral commission disqualified candidates whose paperwork, it said, appeared to be irregular

Western governments expressed alarm about the arrests.

U.S. Embassy spokesperson Andrea Kalan said the detentions “and use of disproportionate police force undermine rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process.”

She noted that both the Russian constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee free elections and the right of peaceful assembly.

“The Russian government continues to disregard the rights of its people to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Britain’s Foreign Office, while European Union foreign service spokesperson Maja Kocijancic condemned the “detentions, and the disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters.”

“For the upcoming local elections in September 2019 to represent a genuinely democratic process, it is essential to create the conditions for a level playing field and an inclusive political environment,” Kocijancic said.


Navalny, who has clashed with the authorities on numerous occasions, led the opposition to Putin’s election campaign in 2012.

He was later convicted of fraud – he and supporters claim the charges were trumped up – and handed a five-year suspended prison sentence. The sentence was subsequently extended, resulting in his disqualification from running against Putin in the next presidential elections, in March 2018.

There have been several instances of toxin or similar use against individuals who have challenged the Kremlin over the years.

In November 2006, Kremlin critic and former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko died in London after being poisoned with radioactive polonium. A subsequent British inquiry concluded that the Federal Security Service (FSB) assassinated him, in a plot that was probably approved by Putin.

In March last year another former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, survived an assassinated attempt by suspected Russian agents using a deadly nerve agent known as Novichok. His daughter and a police officer exposed to the substance also survived, although a woman in a nearby town died several months later, evidently after accidental exposure to the Novichok. Russia denies wrongdoing.

In 2004 a pro-Western presidential candidate in Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, was poisoned with a potent dioxin while campaigning against a candidate favored by Moscow.

The chemical caused severe bloating and pockmarking of his face. Yushchenko, who served as president from 2005 to 2010, believed he was poisoned deliberately during a dinner, although the assertions have not been proven.

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