Speed Reads

In Russia tea poisons you

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny rushed to hospital after apparently drinking poisoned tea

Alexei Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic, was rushed to the hospital Thursday after he became suddenly ill on an flight back to Moscow from Siberia. "The plane made an urgent landing in Omsk," tweeted Kira Yarmysh, the press secretary Navalny's anti-corruption organization. "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" and on a ventilator in intensive care.

Videos shared on social media, including by news organizations tied to Russian security services, record Navalny howling with pain on the airplane and being wheeled to the hospital on a stretcher once the plane landed.

Navalny, 44, has frequently been jailed by Russian state prosecutors, but he's also had run-ins with poisoning, including a mysterious allergic reaction to food in a Russian jail last year and a green astringent substance thrown at his eyes and face in 2017. "One year ago, Alexei was poisoned when he was in jail," Yarmysh wrote. "Clearly the same thing has happened again."

Critics of Putin have been poisoned in recent years, fallen to their deaths from balconies, and been assassinated in European cities. Opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was shot dead within sight of the Kremlin in 2015, and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with polonium-210 in Britain, where he had defected. "One of the men accused in his poisoning is now an MP in Russia's parliament," The Guardian notes.

Navalny had been in Siberia campaigning for opposition candidates in upcoming local elections, and possibly gathering information for an investigation of local lawmakers from Putin's United Russia party.