Navalny plans to re­turn to Rus­sia af­ter re­cov­ery

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY IS­ABELLE KHURSHUDYA­N is­abelle.khurshudya­n@wash­post.com Love­day Mor­ris in Ber­lin con­trib­uted to this re­port.

moscow — Krem­lin critic Alexei Navalny on Tues­day is­sued his first pub­lic state­ment since he was poi­soned in Rus­sia last month, writ­ing on In­sta­gram that he’s able to breathe on his own af­ter weeks on a ven­ti­la­tor.

His spokes­woman, mean­while, con­firmed that the op­po­si­tion ac­tivist planned to re­turn to Rus­sia once he has re­cov­ered. “No other op­tions were ever con­sid­ered,” spokes­woman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twit­ter. Nei­ther Navalny nor Yarmysh in­di­cated when he might re­turn.

Navalny, 44, be­came ill dur­ing an Aug. 20 flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. By the time the plane made an emer­gency land­ing in nearby Omsk, Navalny was un­con­scious. Yarmysh said she sus­pected he was poi­soned when he drank a cup of tea at the air­port that morn­ing.

Doc­tors in Omsk said they found no traces of poi­son when treat­ing Navalny for two days, but the Ber­lin hos­pi­tal at­trib­uted his con­di­tion to poi­son sim­i­lar to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novi­chok, the same sub­stance that Bri­tain said Rus­sian state se­cu­rity agents used on for­mer Rus­sian spy Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter in Sal­is­bury, Eng­land, in 2018. On Mon­day, Ger­many said French and Swedish labs had con­firmed its find­ings.

Char­ité hos­pi­tal said Navalny re­gained con­scious­ness last week af­ter more than two weeks in a med­i­cally in­duced coma and he was able to get out of bed for short pe­ri­ods on Mon­day.

In his In­sta­gram post Tues­day morn­ing, Navalny is shown sit­ting up in bed be­side his wife and two chil­dren and with­out breath­ing aids. “Hello, it’s Navalny,” the post says. “I miss you.”

“I still can’t do much, but yes­ter­day I was able to breathe on my own all day long,” it con­tin­ues. “I did not use any out­side help, not even the sim­plest valve in my throat. I liked it very much. An amaz­ing, un­der­es­ti­mated by many process. I rec­om­mend it.”

Navalny’s al­lies have blamed Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s govern­ment for Navalny’s poi­son­ing, and an even­tual re­turn to Rus­sia could be dan­ger­ous. Navalny, who was barred from run­ning for pres­i­dent in 2018, has been jailed and ha­rassed. And this was not the first time he has been the vic­tim of a toxic at­tack. In 2017, Navalny was at­tacked with an an­ti­sep­tic green dye that dam­aged vi­sion in one of his eyes.

Navalny’s team has pub­lished in­ves­ti­ga­tions ex­pos­ing graft and wrong­do­ing by Rus­sia’s elite. Over the past year, he has en­cour­aged vot­ers to back anti-krem­lin can­di­dates as a mes­sage of dis­con­tent over Rus­sia’s sag­ging econ­omy and the unchecked power of Putin, who has the po­ten­tial to stay in of­fice un­til 2036 un­der con­sti­tu­tional changes ap­proved this year.

Navalny-backed can­di­dates won seats in re­gional elec­tions over the week­end on city coun­cils in Tomsk and Novosi­birsk, the two cities Navalny vis­ited on the trip just be­fore he was poi­soned. Putin’s United Rus­sia party lost coun­cil ma­jori­ties in both places.

Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked Tues­day about Navalny’s in­ten­tion to re­turn to the coun­try, said “any cit­i­zen of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion can leave Rus­sia and re­turn to Rus­sia of his own vo­li­tion.”

“If the health of this cit­i­zen of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion im­proves, of course, this will make ev­ery­one glad,” Peskov said.

De­spite calls from the West to in­ves­ti­gate how Navalny was poi­soned, Moscow has not opened a crim­i­nal case and has de­nied any of­fi­cial in­volve­ment. A Krem­lin sum­mary of a phone con­ver­sa­tion Mon­day be­tween Putin and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said: “The par­ties dis­cussed in de­tail the sit­u­a­tion sur­round­ing the Alexei Navalny case. Putin, in turn, re­it­er­ated that the un­sub­stan­ti­ated and ground­less ac­cu­sa­tions made against Rus­sia in this con­text are in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov told Rus­sian state tele­vi­sion Mon­day that “Western part­ners are glanc­ing at us with ar­ro­gance, [as if they] have a right to doubt our cor­rect­ness and pro­fes­sion­al­ism.”

Sergei Naryshkin, di­rec­tor of Rus­sia’s For­eign In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice, even hinted Tues­day that Ger­many could be re­spon­si­ble for Navalny’s poi­son­ing. “It is a fact that the mo­ment Alexei Navalny left the Rus­sian ter­ri­tory, there were no tox­ins in his sys­tem,” he told re­porters in Moscow. “There­fore, we have many ques­tions for the Ger­man side.”

Ger­many’s jus­tice min­istry said last week it had con­sented to a re­quest from Moscow for “mu­tual le­gal as­sis­tance” in Navalny’s case and had tasked Ber­lin state au­thor­i­ties with han­dling it.

Ber­lin state pros­e­cu­tors con­firmed that they had been asked to re­spond to the re­quest and pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on Navalny’s health, sub­ject to his con­sent. State pros­e­cu­tors have yet to meet with Navalny, ac­cord­ing to a Ber­lin jus­tice depart­ment spokesman. If Navalny con­sents, spokesman Se­bas­tian Brux said, in­for­ma­tion on his med­i­cal con­di­tion will be passed on.

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