A plane carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who is in a coma after a suspected poisoning left for a German hospital on Saturday.
Images taken from the tarmac of an airport in the Siberian city of Omsk show Navalny being lifted into a private air ambulance – which was chartered to to fly him to Berlin’s Charite hospital for treatment.
The flight could then be seen taking off just after 8am local time and was expected to take about five hours.
Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva this morning confirmed that he had been put into an ‘artificial’ coma in a bid to stop his ‘very deep convulsions.
She believes a ‘poison or some toxic agent’ must have caused Navalny’s extreme condition and said a ‘metabolic changes’ – the cause cited by Russian doctors – could not have lead to his brain damage.
A video at the hospital in Omsk showed an ambulance with its rear doors opened as the unconscious Navalny was loaded in by medics wearing masks.
More footage showed the ambulance entering Omsk airport ahead of a five and half hour flight to Berlin.
The private air ambulance was chartered by German NGO Cinema for Peace.
Navalny, a 44-year-old politician and corruption investigator who is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics, was admitted to an intensive care unit in Omsk on Thursday.
His supporters believe that tea he drank was laced with poison – and that the Kremlin is behind both his illness and the delay in transferring him to a top German hospital.
Dr Vasilyeva said she went to the hospital in Siberia but was barred from visiting him.
She told Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘They didn’t allow nobody except Yulia, his wife, and his brother to come to him and visit him. So that’s why I didn’t see him but I spoke to his doctors and at least they described the whole clinical picture and I understood all about his health, about his condition now and it’s not very good news.
She added: ‘So he’s in a coma. He’s in coma number two and some toxic agent, some toxic substance, that I think […] only some poison or some toxic agent can influence in such a way that it damages the brain.’
She said he suffers from a ‘convulsive syndrome’ and his coma is ‘artificial’ to prevent ‘very deep convulsions’.
She went on: ‘What can lead to this condition? Only some toxic substance. Russian doctors didn’t say anything about it. They said it is only metabolic changes and carbohydrate changes. But all doctors can understand that no damage and changes of the metabolic system can lead to damage of the brain.’
She hopes that German doctors will be able to help Navalny. She said: ‘If he was in Germany at the moment of his case, maybe they could have understood quickly what the substance is. But now they can treat him based on his symptoms and his disease.’
When German specialists first arrived on a plane equipped with advanced medical equipment Friday morning at his family’s behest, Navalny’s physicians in Omsk said he was too unstable to move.
Navalny’s supporters denounced that as a ploy by authorities to stall until any poison in his system would no longer be traceable.
The Omsk medical team relented only after a charity that had organized the medevac plane revealed that the German doctors examined the politician and said he was fit to be transported.
After their ruling, the German medics were marched into a nearby car and kicked out of the hospital.
Navalny’s family were told they must take responsibility for any consequences of moving the gravely-ill anti-corruption campaigner to Germany.
Earlier today his wife begged President Vladimir Putin to release her comatose husband amid claims of a cover-up by Russian doctors who said he has a heart disease.
Navalny’s wife Yulia, begged arch-rival Vladimir Putin to allow him to leave the country for treatment after he fell into a coma.
Yulia, who has been barred from seeing her husband since he fell unconscious on a flight from Siberia to Moscow yesterday, said it is vital he is taken to Germany for specialist treatment.
Alexander Murakhovsky, the hospital’s head doctor, has flatly denied claims that Navalny was poisoned – saying he is suffering from a heart condition caused by low blood sugar.
He also said that ‘industrial chemicals’ were found on his hands and clothes, but did not say what they were.
Medics at the hospital insist they are more than capable of treating the condition, even as pictures laid bare the grim interior of the Soviet-era building.
Images showed paint peeling from the walls, signs of water damage, rusted sinks and doors, an unclean toilet and parts of the building covered in plywood.
Another image showed two Russian security personnel in suits marching down a dimly-lit corridor towards a masked doctor coming in the opposite direction.
Yulia, Navalny’s wife, accused the Kremlin of forcing doctors to delay the evacuation until all traces of poison have disappeared from her husband’s body, making it impossible to prove that he was attacked.
The Kremlin has denied involvement, insisting that the decision to keep Navalny in Russia was a ‘purely a medical decision’.
Kira Yarmysh, his press secretary, said doctors and the Kremlin had both agreed to the move but at 9.45am – 15 minutes before the evacuation plane arrived – medics suddenly changed their minds.
‘Until now, doctors have said that they are ready to authorize transportation,’ she tweeted early Friday. ‘That is why we organized it in the shortest possible time.
‘Now, at the last moment, doctors are not giving permission. This decision, of course, was not made by them, but by the Kremlin.’
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said German doctors who arrived on Friday had been invited to join Russian doctors treating Navalny.
Speaking on a conference call, Peskov said it was still unclear what caused Navalny to fall ill while flying back to Moscow from Siberia on Thursday morning.
Medics later suggested that Navalny’s blood pressure was low, and that traces of chemicals had been found on his fingers and clothes – without saying what chemicals they were.
Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s most threatening political rival, became gravely ill after falling suddenly sick on a plane from Tomsk to Moscow.
His aides and family believe his tea was spiked with an unidentified ‘toxic poison’ at Tomsk airport before his flight.
The aircraft made an emergency landing in Omsk and he was rushed to hospital.
Hospital chiefs today indicated his condition was too grave to be moved either to another Russian hospital or – as his family and aides wish – onto an air ambulance due to arrive from Germany.
His press secretary Kira Yarmysh said: ‘The ban on transporting Alexei means a direct threat to his life.
‘It is deadly to remain in the Omsk hospital without equipment and without a diagnosis in the current situation.’
She said Putin’s deputy chief of staff and spokesman Dmitry Peskov had promised to allow Navalny to be moved if needed.
‘Yesterday Peskov promised to provide help in treating Navalny and in transporting him to a different clinic.
‘Today doctors are refusing to give permission for his transportation.’
She warned: ‘Navalny’s life now depends on the fact that the chief physician of the intensive care unit has refused to ‘bear responsibility’ – by allowing him to be moved, ideally abroad, in a well equipped flying intensive care unit.’
Yulia Navalny, the campaigner’s wife and mother of his two children, added that she believes the delay in transport is to allow the toxin to reduce to levels that would be undetectable after he is moved.
That means his supporters will never be able to confirm that he was poisoned, or what he was poisoned with.
Zhdanov added: ‘All relevant documents have been submitted.
‘There was an application from a family member, consent from a clinic in Germany and documents for transportation (by air ambulance).
‘The clinic’s decision is inexplicable and monstrous.’
He said: ‘The doctors have now locked themselves up in the chief doctor’s office.
‘No-one is allowed to see them.’
Navalny’s camp say they are not being given proper details of his condition and have demanded he is allowed onto the air ambulance and flown to Berlin.
The chief doctor in Omsk, Alexander Murakovsky, denied any knowledge of a poison in Navalny’s body, saying tests are underway and will take two more days.
‘We cannot allow for the patient to be transported even under the responsibility of relatives unless the patient’s clinical condition is stable,’ he said.
‘His current state causes our concern in relation to transportation.’
If he was moved ‘anything can happen including the saddest thing possible’.
Omsk transport police spokeswoman Yulia Shwartz refused to confirm a deadly substance had been found.
‘The analysis is still ongoing and so far we do not have any results.’
Russia has dispatched intensive care specialists, neurophysiologists and anaesthetists were sent to Omsk from two top Moscow clinics, the Pirogov Medical and Surgical Centre and the Burdenko Centre of Neurosurgery.
Navalny’s wife Yulia flew yesterday to be at his hospital amid claims that relatives were not being given the full facts of his condition.
German chancellor Angela Merkel offered treatment in Germany for the Putin foe.
‘I hope that he can recover and… he can receive from us all the help and medical support needed,’ she said.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov wished Navalny a ‘speedy recovery’ and said the Kremlin. Would help secure him treatment abroad if needed.
He claimed the poisoning allegations were ‘only assumptions’ until tests proved otherwise.
Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said Navalny had ‘hundreds of enemies including some hardened individuals’, pointing to his anti-corruption investigations that attract millions of views online.