Putin’s Most Vocal Critic Is in Serious Condition After His Tea Was Allegedly Poisoned

"I think this is a targeted poisoning organized by the FSB and ordered by Vladimir Putin," prominent Kremlin critic Bill Browder told VICE News.
Photo: Nikolay Vinokurov / Alamy Stock Photo

Russian politician Alexei Navalny is in a serious condition in a Siberian hospital after being “poisoned” in what Kremlin critics say is a targeted attack.

Navalny, de facto opposition leader to President Vladimir Putin, was on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow when he fell ill. The plane was forced to make an emergency stop in the Siberian city of Omsk.

Footage of Navalny being loaded onto a stretcher has been shared online, and a spokesperson for the hospital told journalists that the Kremlin critic is connected to a ventilator and in critical condition.


Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary for the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which Navalny founded in 2011, tweeted that the 44-year-old has “toxic poisoning.”

She added: "We suspect that Alexei was poisoned by something mixed into [his] tea. It was the only thing he drank since morning. Doctors are saying that the toxic agent absorbed faster through the hot liquid. Right now Alexei is unconscious."

Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasiya Vasiliyeva, tweeted that the emergency doctor would not speak to her, but that Navalny’s pupils were showing some responses. She said she was on her way to Omsk.

A picture of Navalny drinking tea in a cafe at Tomsk airport was shared online. The owner of the cafe told the Interfax news agency that he would be launching an investigation.

A video purporting to show Navalny in extreme pain was also shared online, showing emergency services taking the opposition leader off the plane once it landed.

“At the start of the flight, he went to the toilet and didn't come back,” Pavel Lebedev, a passenger on the plane, told Reuters. “He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him ‘round and he was screaming in pain."

The state-run Tass news agency, citing a law enforcement official, said investigators are not considering that Navalny was poisoned intentionally, but critics are already pointing the finger at Putin, saying the attack was linked to the recent uprising in Belarus.


“I think this is a targeted poisoning organized by the FSB and ordered by Vladimir Putin because Putin is terrified of the Belarus situation coming to Russia and Alexei Navalny unseating him,” Bill Browder, a prominent critic of the Kremlin, told VICE News.

Despite repeated and violent crackdowns on protesters in Minsk and across Belarus by police forces loyal to President Alexander Lukashenko, citizens continue to protest against election results which are widely seen as rigged.

“If the Belarusians can get rid of Lukashenko, then it means to the Russians that they can get rid of Putin, and Alexi Navalny is the obvious choice to replace him,” Browder said.

Navalny has long been a target of the Kremlin, and has been jailed on multiple occasions, most recently in July of 2019 for organizing opposition protests. During his time in jail, Navalny became ill and claimed he had been poisoned.

Two years earlier, in 2017, a pro-Kremlin activist threw a chemical dye at Navalny that left him partially blind in one eye.

Despite their efforts to discredit Navalny, he remains a hugely popular figure among ordinary Russians whose lives have not been improved during Putin’s two decades in charge.

“There's a huge amount of anger beneath the surface, because Russia has stagnated for 20 years under Putin,” Browder said. “They've taken away democracy, free speech, free press, and the standard of living has dropped. So it's a tinderbox waiting to ignite.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly been accused of poisoning its critics.

In 2006, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned by tea laced with a radioactive isotope while in exile in the U.K. And in 2018, the U.K. accused the FSB of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.

Browder, whose life has also been threatened by the Kremlin, says the attack on Navalny is a “very disturbing escalation” by the Russian government: “They were too scared to touch Navalny before, because of how popular he is, and they've now decided that their situation is so grave, and even with that fear, they needed to go after him.”