Tests conducted on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny at a German hospital indicate he was poisoned, but doctors say they do not believe his life to be at immediate risk.
The Charite hospital said the team of doctors who have been examining Mr Navalny since he was flown from Siberia and admitted on Saturday have found the presence of “cholinesterase inhibitors” in his system.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had personally offered her country’s assistance in treating Mr Navalny before he was brought to Berlin, said in view of the findings and his “prominent role in the political opposition in Russia, authorities there are now called upon urgently to investigate this crime in detail and in full transparency”.
“Those responsible must be identified and held accountable,” Mrs Merkel said.
Cholinesterase inhibitors are a broad range of substances that are found in several drugs, but also pesticides and nerve agents. However, doctors at Charite said at the moment the specific substance to which Mr Navalny was exposed is not yet known.
“The patient is in an intensive care unit and is still in an induced coma. His health is serious but there is currently no acute danger to his life,” the hospital said in a statement.
Mr Navalny remained in critical but stable condition at the Berlin hospital, with special protection details on hand to ensure his safety, German officials said.
Berlin police and federal agents were posted at the hospital where the 44-year-old is undergoing treatment following his arrival in Germany.
“It was obvious that after his arrival, protective precautions had to be taken,” Mrs Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters. “After all, this is a patient who, with a certain degree of probability, was poisoned.”
He would not comment on Mr Navalny’s condition, but earlier in the day, Dirk Wiese, the German government’s co-ordinator for Eastern European affairs, told public broadcaster ZDF he was “currently critical, but stable”.
“He is now receiving the best possible treatment,” Mr Wiese said.
Mr Navalny’s supporters believe that tea he drank was laced with poison – and that the Kremlin is behind both his illness and a delay in transferring him to Germany.
Russian doctors have said, however, that tests have shown no traces of poison in his system. The Kremlin hasn’t yet commented on the allegation.
Mr Navalny’s team last week submitted a request in Russia to launch a criminal probe, but as of Monday, Russia’s Investigative Committee still has not opened a case, Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said.
Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician in Moscow and a close ally of Mr Navalny, urged Russia’s law enforcement, in a video statement, to investigate “an attempt at a life of a public figure” and to look into the possible involvement of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“It is Putin who benefits from these endless assaults,” Mr Yashin said.