Russia’s most high-profile opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, is unconscious and on ventilator in intensive care after being hospitalized Thursday from what is believed to be a poisoning. The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner was flying to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk when he became extremely ill midflight, prompting the plane to make an emergency landing 500 miles away in Omsk, near the border with Kazakhstan. A spokeswoman for Navalny said he was exhibiting signs of poisoning and that the only thing he ingested was a cup of tea at the Tomsk airport cafe.
Navalny’s condition deteriorated rapidly once on board the flight, with passengers saying he went to the bathroom and never returned. “Loud groaning can be heard in video footage apparently filmed on the flight taken by Navalny, which was shared on the Baza Telegram channel,” CNN reports. “More video apparently filmed through the airplane window shows an immobile man being taken by wheeled stretcher to a waiting ambulance.”
Navalny has, for years, been an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin, and this is not the first time he has been the victim of an apparent attack presumed to be carried out by Russia’s security services, which have been known to target dissidents in myriad macabre ways. Last year, Navalny was hospitalized for what was technically classified a “severe allergic reaction” after being following an election protest to a ban on opposition candidates in Moscow’s City Council election. Navalny also lost much of his sight in one eye after being doused with bright green chemicals two years earlier by an assailant in the Siberian city of Barnaul.
Navalny and was traveling through Siberia to support candidates running in local elections next month. The social media–savvy campaigner posed for pictures with supporters and encouraged volunteers to join the cause. Local Russian news sources say Navalny may also have been in the region gathering information as part of a corruption investigation into Russia’s ruling party, United Russia. “Revelations of corruption in his investigations into senior members of the Russian government have fuelled street protests and provoked angry threats from powerful officials,” the Guardian reports.
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