Putin Opponent Navalny Posts Photo From Hospital

MOSCOW (Reuters) -
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally. (Reuters)

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny shared a photograph from a Berlin hospital on Tuesday, sitting up in bed and surrounded by his family, and said he could now breathe independently after being poisoned in Siberia last month.

The photo – the strongest evidence yet of Navalny’s advancing recovery after emerging from a coma last week – was swiftly followed by confirmation from his press spokeswoman that he planned to return to Russia.

“Hi, this is Navalny. I miss you all,” he wrote in the caption to his Instagram followers. “I can still hardly do anything, but yesterday I could breathe all day on my own. Actually on my own.”

The leading opponent of President Vladimir Putin, fell violently sick while campaigning on Aug. 20 and was airlifted to Berlin. Germany says laboratory tests in three countries have determined he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, and Western governments have demanded an explanation from Russia.

Moscow has called the accusations groundless. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated on Tuesday that Moscow was open to clearing up what happened to Navalny, but needed access to information on his case from Berlin.

He said Moscow did not understand why, if French and Swedish laboratories had been able to test his medical samples, Russia was not being given the same access.

The case has further strained relations between Russia and the West, already at a post-Cold War low since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the attempted poisoning of a former Russian double agent with the same Novichok nerve agent in England in 2018.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced calls to punish Russia by suspending work on Nord Stream 2, a nearly completed pipeline bringing gas from Russia to Germany.

Navalny, 44, has not been allowed to form a political party but has riled Putin for the past decade with detailed campaigns exposing official corruption, bypassing the state-controlled media by using social media.

In his social media post, he even attempted a flash of humor, saying that breathing naturally was “an amazing process, underestimated by many. I’d recommend it.”