Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader and one of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, was rushed to the hospital on Sunday with what was characterized as a severe allergic reaction – acute swelling, discharge from his eye and rashes on his neck, back, chest and wrists, the BBC reports.
After Navalny’s condition improved, he was returned to his prison cell in spite of his doctor’s opposition. Anastasia Vassilieva, his doctor, says Alexei is not allergic to anything and it is “absurd” to call the reaction an allergy. She said, “It was a toxic reaction to a chemical, it was definitely some chemical agent.” Vassilieva maintains that Navalny “needs to be under close medical supervision”, and stated that he should be allowed to call his relatives.
Vassilieva says she was not allowed to visit her patient and drew her conclusions from seeing him through a door and from “certain officials… acting strangely”. In a Facebook post she wrote, “No one is looking for the cause [of his illness], doctors are denied access. There are lies all around.”
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told reporters, “He was really poisoned by some unknown chemical substance. But what the substance was has not been established.”
Both Mikhailova and Vassilieva opposed Alexei being returned to the cell where he fell ill, NBC reports. The hospital in Moscow where Navalny was treated said that patient confidentiality prevented them from discussing what the cause of his sudden illness was. Elena Sibikina, a physician who helped treat Navalny, said his life was not in danger and that poison as a cause for his illness had not been proven.
Alexei Navalny is serving 30 days in prison for helping organize and encouraging people to participate in protests on Saturday which saw 1,400 people arrested in what became one of the largest recent crackdowns in Russia. Protesters took to the streets to demand fair elections after 30 opposition candidates were barred from running in local elections. Opposition groups reject the official explanation that the candidates failed to gather sufficient signatures and say the barrings are politically motivated, according to the BBC.
Navalny has been a perpetual thorn in Putin’s side and, as Putin’s popularity ratings drop, continues to be a threat. He has been jailed multiple times for organizing unauthorized protests and was injured in 2017 when antiseptic dye was thrown in his face. In 2018 he attempted to run in the presidential race but was barred because of a prior conviction on embezzlement charges. Navalny denies the charges and maintains that the case was politically motivated.
NPR correspondent, Lucian Kim, reported that the nighttime raid prior to the protests scooped up several high-profile opposition leaders and said the reason for the crackdown was to prevent any opposition party politicians from gaining legitimacy and threatening the Kremlins’ power.