Alexei Navalny has made enemies amid regime that thrives in dark corners – and ‘poisoned tea’ has its precedents
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As the Kremlin’s most prominent domestic critic, with a long back catalogue of widely read and forensically investigated exposes of Russia’s corrupt bureaucracy to his name, Alexei Navalny has made himself a lot of enemies.
He has suffered endless arrests and prolonged periods in detention as well as regular street-level harassment. In one incident in 2017, his sight in one eye was permanently damaged after green antiseptic dye was thrown at him.
And last year, in detention, he suffered an allergic reaction his doctor said might have been the result of poison.
This latest incident – a suspected poisoning – appears to be far more serious.
Alexei Navalny‘s spokeswoman at his anti-corruption foundation, Kira Yarmysh, who was sitting next to him on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow when he fell ill, says he is in a coma and hooked up to a ventilator.
She believes the evasive manner of the hospital doctors – now that the place is crawling with police – only confirms that he was poisoned.
Based on his Instagram account, Navalny had been in the Siberian city of Tomsk, in part at least, to support the campaigns of local deputies taking on the ruling United Russia party in this September’s regional elections.
It is part of his call for “smart voting”, to encourage people to vote for anyone other than United Russia.
Who knows who the next target of his anti-corruption campaign was set to be, but all those he has profiled to date have hefty grudges to bear.
Poisoned tea – which Ms Yarmysh assumes to be the cause here – has its precedents. Think no further than Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who directly accused Vladimir Putin of his own slow murder from his deathbed.
Russian investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya was poisoned drinking tea on a flight on her way to cover the school siege in Beslan in 2004. She recovered, but was assassinated two years later – most probably because of her investigations into Chechnya’s wars and its warlords.
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If this is indeed a poisoning, it once again highlights the nature of the Russian system.
Whoever is directly responsible, it is enabled by a regime which thrives in dark corners – where there is minimal accountability and where too many stand to benefit from harming those who seek the truth.