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© Sergei Chirikov/EPA, via Shutterstock A video posted on social media on Thursday showed Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, being wheeled to an ambulance in Omsk, Russia.

Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s Opposition leader Hospitalized in Suspected Poisoning

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          By Andrew Higgins and Yonette Joseph

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, was on a ventilator in intensive care and unconscious in a Siberian hospital on Thursday after suffering symptoms of what his spokeswoman called poisoning.

A plane carrying Mr. Navalny, 44, a high-profile critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, made an emergency landing in Omsk while en route to Moscow after he started feeling unwell, the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Twitter.

“We assume that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed with his tea,” Ms. Yarmysh wrote. “That’s the only thing he drank this morning.” She later added that the police had been called to the hospital at “our request.”

A photograph shared on social media showed Mr. Navalny, who challenged Mr. Putin in the 2018 presidential election, drinking from a cup at the airport cafeteria in Tomsk, from where the flight originated.

The head doctor at the hospital in Omsk, Aleksandr Murakhovsky, said that Mr. Navalny was in “serious condition,” according to the Russian news agency Tass. No further details were released, and the government had no immediate comment on Mr. Navalny’s condition.

Videos posted by Russian news outlets showed an unconscious Mr. Navalny being wheeled on a gurney to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac at the Omsk airport. In another video, shot inside the aircraft, the opposition leader can be heard moaning in pain.

Videos posted by Russian news outlets showed an unconscious Mr. Navalny being wheeled on a gurney to an ambulance waiting on the tarmac at the Omsk airport. In another video, shot inside the aircraft, the opposition leader can be heard moaning in pain.

Mr. Navalny was traveling in Siberia on one of his regular trips to far-flung regions in an effort to expand Russia’s weak and often Moscow-centric opposition movement beyond the capital.

Before boarding his flight in Tomsk on Thursday, Mr. Navalny met with opposition candidates in an upcoming election for the local council. He arrived in Tomsk from Novosibirsk, Siberia’s largest city, where he had met with his supporters and discussed plans to field independent candidates in a city council election next month.





A Siberian news outlet, Taiga, reported that Mr. Navalny also filmed an investigative report for his Anti-Corruption Foundation on local officials affiliated with United Russia, a Kremlin-backed political party that dominates most regional parliaments in Russia as well as the national Parliament.

Last year, Mr. Navalny was hospitalized with a “severe allergic reaction” in jail, which his doctor at the time suggested could have been the result of a poisoning, after he was detained for leading an unauthorized election protest.

He had been arrested and sentenced to 30 days in jail for calling a rally to protest a decision by the election authorities to bar several opposition candidates from running for Moscow’s City Council.

Mr. Navalny, a lawyer, anticorruption activist and vocal critic of Mr. Putin, was doused with a bright green liquid in the Siberian city of Barnaul in 2017 by an unknown assailant who had pretended to shake his hand.

He said that a doctor had told him he lost 80 percent of the sight in one eye after suffering a chemical burn from the green liquid.

While there was no independent confirmation that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned before falling ill on Thursday, the Russian security services have been suspected of targeting a number of dissidents and others. Among those are Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian double agent who was poisoned in England in 2018; Boris Y. Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who in 2015 was gunned down in the shadow of the Kremlin; and Aleksandr V. Litvinenko, a K.G.B. officer turned Kremlin critic who was poisoned in London in 2006.

The Kremlin and its supporters have for years regarded Mr. Navalny as an enemy because of the investigations into graft by officials — including, most vividly, the former prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev — carried out by his Anti-Corruption Foundation. Unlike Mr. Putin, who for security reasons almost never uses the internet, Mr. Navalny has exploited social media to mobilize a large following.

Mr. Navalny, who often refers to Mr. Putin as the head of “a party of crooks and thieves,” largely appeals to younger Russians, particularly in larger cities like Moscow, but he has built up a network of offices across the country. Mr. Putin never mentions Mr. Navalny’s name in public, and state-controlled news outlets generally ignore him and his work.

But while feigning indifference, the Kremlin has repeatedly tried to silence Mr. Navalny, jailing him, accusing him of money laundering, and searching the homes and offices of his supporters.

The Russian Justice Ministry last October classified the Anti-Corruption Foundation as a “foreign agent,” a label frequently used by the Kremlin to stigmatize its critics as traitors.

Mr. Navalny, like many other Kremlin critics, has reveled in the recent unrest in neighboring Belarus and also in the Russian Far East, seeing a sudden burst of protests in those places as a sign that Moscow, too, will emerge from its long, enforced political slumber under Mr. Putin, now in power for more than two decades.

Mr. Putin recently engineered constitutional changes that remove term limits requiring him to step down in 2024 and allow him to rule potentially until 2036. Mr. Navalny denounced the changes, endorsed in a tightly controlled nationwide vote, as a constitutional coup.

Mr. Navalny announced plans to run against Mr. Putin in the 2018 presidential election, but the authorities blocked his candidacy by entangling him in a criminal case involving corruption charges widely seen as trumped up for political reasons.

Mr. Putin would almost certainly have won any election against Mr. Navalny but wanted to avoid a straight contest that would have forced him to acknowledge the existence of a rival with different ideas.

Each assault on Mr. Navalny’s person and reputation, however, has only reaffirmed his position as the country’s best-known opposition leader and stirred sympathy for him even among those who do not trust or like him.

Andrew Higgins reported from Moscow, and Yonette Joseph from Hong Kong

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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