Pro-Kremlin social media teeming with theories about Alexey Navalny’s suspected poisoning

The Russian opposition leader is in critical condition after suddenly falling ill during a flight to Moscow

In the early morning on August 20 Alexey Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, was rushed to a Siberian hospital, following a suspected poisoning. Just hours after the opposition leader fell into a coma, pro-Kremlin social media is teeming with alternative theories.

Doctors from Omsk Hospital for Emergency Medicine Number One, where Navalny was taken after falling ill on a Moscow-bound flight, have released few details and have not confirmed any cause of his condition.

Dozens of online accounts, many state-affiliated, are doing their best to fill in the gaps:

  • Authorities are not investigating a potential poisoning, an anonymous source from Russian security services told the federal news agency TASS. “We’re not ruling out that he drank or took something the evening before,” they said, adding that on admittance Navalny was given an initial diagnosis of “acute poisoning from psychedelic drugs.”
  • Another theory, pushed by the Telegram channel Mash, which has nearly 900,000 subscribers, cites eyewitness testimony that Navalny had been drinking until 2 a.m. in a village outside of the city Tomsk the night before his flight. The post reminded readers that mixing alcohol with other medicine — “possibly sleeping pills” — can cause “unpredictable” reactions.
  • The tabloid newspaper Moscow Komsomolets went into more detail, citing an anonymous source who said that Navalny was drinking “moonshine” before his flight. It appears that this rumor first surfaced on the pro-government Mediakiller Telegram channel.
  • The pro-Kremlin Federal News Agency ran several pieces about the case, one alleging that doctors found high levels of alcohol in Navalny’s blood. Another piece quoted drug expert Oleg Ctatsenko, saying that “drug addicts” often use the same unnamed substance that “poisoned” Navalny.

In a tweet addressing allegations of Navalny drinking to excess or using drugs, his press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, stated, “This is not true. He did not drink yesterday and he did not take any pills this morning.”

The independent news site Mediazona shared a video reportedly filmed on the plane Navalny and Yarmysh were on. The footage shows medics carrying equipment down the aisle, towards a man who can clearly be heard moaning in pain.

“The propagandists have already started singing their beloved songs,” wrote StalinGulag, one of Russia’s most popular opposition Telegram channels. “Now they will throw out a million theories about what happened and tell everyone that the authorities had no reason to poison Alexey.”

Navalny’s personal doctor Yaroslav Ashikhmin said that “he must be evacuated to Europe” in order to properly test for poisoning.

Later the same day, Anatoli Kalinichenko, deputy head doctor of the Omsk hospital, made a televised statement, in which he said that Navalny’s condition is stabilizing but still critical.

Photo by Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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Katerina Fomina

Katerina Fomina is CodaRu's senior editor. Born and raised in Moscow, Russia, she worked as a special reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and has written for other media. Katerina has lived in Armenia and Georgia, but is currently based in Moscow again.

Tatiana Torocheshnikova

Tatiana Torocheshnikova works as an editor for CodaRu. She was born in Moscow, Russia. She worked as an editor at Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists, where she covered violations of human rights and cases of espionage in modern Russia.