Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has posted a picture of himself from his hospital bed in Germany, looking gaunt but joking wryly about his condition and saying he was enjoying the ability to finally breathe on his own after being poisoned with a nerve agent.
The Instagram post was the first image of the 44-year-old released since he was taken to Berlin’s Charite hospital two days after falling ill on a domestic flight in Russia on August 20.
“Hi, this is Navalny,” he wrote in the Russian-language post. “I have been missing you. I still can’t do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day.”
He had been kept in an induced coma for more than two weeks as he was treated with an antidote before hospital officials said on September 7 that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it.
On Monday, the hospital said he had been removed from mechanical ventilation and was able to leave his bed for “short periods of time”.
In the photo, Mr Navalny is being given a hug by his wife Yulia and is flanked by his two children as he sits upright in his bed in a hospital gown. His statement even had the ring of his well-known sarcastic humour.
“Just on my own, no extra help, I didn’t even use the simplest valve in my throat,” he said of being able to breathe without ventilation. “I liked it very much. It’s a remarkable process that is underestimated by many. Strongly recommended.”
Despite his recovery, doctors have said they cannot rule out long-term health issues associated with the poisoning.
Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, tweeted that once he has recovered, he plans to return to Russia, adding: “No other option has ever been considered.”
A German military lab has determined that Mr Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018.
On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings.
The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Mr Navalny tested at its designated labs, Germany has said.
The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he had expressed “deep concern over the criminal act” that targeted Mr Navalny directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday.
The Kremlin said Mr Putin in the call “underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side” and emphasised Russia’s demand for Germany to hand over analyses and samples.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia is puzzled by the German refusal to share Mr Navalny’s analyses and other medical data, or compare notes with the Russian doctors who found no trace of poison in his system while he was at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk.
“Russia has been absolutely open for co-operation in determining what happened,” he said. “Russia needs co-operation with the German side in getting the patient’s biological samples to be able to advance.”
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who has cancelled a scheduled trip to Berlin, said Russian authorities have conducted a preliminary inquiry and documented the meetings Mr Navalny had before falling ill, but he emphasised they need to see evidence of poisoning to launch a full criminal investigation.
Mr Lavrov said Mr Navalny’s life was saved by the pilots of the plane who quickly landed in Omsk when he collapsed on board and by the rapid action of doctors there. He accused the West of trying to smear Russia and use the incident as a pretext for new sanctions against Moscow.
Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels on sharing evidence.
With Germany’s findings corroborated by labs abroad, “we do not expect the bringer of the bad news — namely us — to be attacked further, but rather that they should deal with the news itself”, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said.
Asked why no samples from Mr Navalny had been given to Russia, his spokeswoman noted: “Mr Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours.”