Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a coma after being taken ill onboard an S7 Airlines flight from Tomsk to Moscow on Thursday morning. His spokesperson claims Navalny became seriously ill after drinking a cup of tea laced with poison at Tomsk airport. He fell ill a short time later during the flight, prompting an emergency landing in the Siberian city of Omsk.
Spokesperson Kira Yarmysh described Navalny’s condition as serious, saying in a Facebook post translated from Russian by Reuters that he had been admitted to intensive care and was currently breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
“We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed into his tea,” Yarmysh said. “It was the only thing that he drank in the morning. Doctors say the toxin was absorbed faster through the hot liquid. Alexei is now unconscious.”
S7 Airlines flight 2614 operated by a Boeing 737 diverted to Omsk airport at 8.15 am local time on Thursday morning around an hour and 15 minutes into the flight to Moscow. Video taken by passengers onboard the flight and posted to social media show Navalny being stretchered into the back of a waiting ambulance.
A doctor quoted by local media, however, says poisoning is just one of several diagnoses currently being worked on by his care team. A spokesperson for the regional health ministry confirmed Navalny had been hospitalised and that his condition was considered serious. She did not elaborate on what may have caused him to fall ill so suddenly.
A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and anti-corruption activist, Navalny has spent several spells in prison for organising anti-government protests. In recent weeks, Navalny has been preparing for regional elections due to take place in September.
The allegations are reminiscent of the Russian-linked poisoning of former FSB and KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Several attempts were made to assassinate the vocal critic of Russia’s elite, including one in which his tea was laced with the Radioactive Polonium poison.
In a statement, S7 Airlines said Navalny took ill shortly after takeoff and that he did not eat or drink anything while onboard.