WASHINGTON – A Russian opposition activist and former journalist was hospitalized with organ failure Thursday, two years after a suspected poisoning put him in a coma.
Vladimir Kara-Murza, a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is in critical condition, according to a Facebook post from his lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov. The attorney told CNN he suspects his client was once again the victim of intentional poisoning, though he had no direct proof.
Democratic lawmakers from Maryland said they were alarmed by the news.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., called on President Donald Trump and the newly confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “speak out on (Kara-Murza’s) behalf.” The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations, Cardin voted against Tillerson’s confirmation after expressing concern about the former ExxonMobil CEO’s positions on Russia.
“We do not know the details on the cause for this most recent health issue, but it appears to be part of an alarming trend where Russian political opposition are targeted for their work,” Cardin said in a statement.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Kara-Murza’s possible poisoning “only makes the case for tough sanctions against the Russian leadership stronger.”
Trump has indicated that he is open to lifting sanctions on Russia.
“I urge the Trump Administration not to reward Putin for his nefarious actions by ending them,” Hoyer said in a statement.
Thursday marks the second time Kara-Murza has been treated for sudden organ failure.
In 2015, Kara-Murza’s colleagues rushed him to the hospital after he began feeling violently ill at work.
“One by one, my organs started shutting down,” he said in a 2015 interview with Capital News Service. “My heart, my lungs, my kidneys.”
While he was in a coma, he said, doctors told his wife he had a 5 percent chance of survival. Kara-Murza alleges he was poisoned by someone affiliated with the government due to his outspoken activism.
“The people who have a different vision of Russia – based on freedom, democracy and rule of law – are considered an enemy of the state,” said Kara-Murza, a coordinator with the pro-democracy Open Russia movement.
Kara-Murza’s case was viewed as similar to that of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian KGB officer and Putin opponent who died in London of radioactive poisoning in 2006.
A British inquiry found that Putin was likely aware of the operation, although the report was dismissed by the Kremlin.
Hoyer cited Litvinenko – along with the names of other critics of the Russian government who have been killed – in his statement.
“The world has borne witness to the murders of Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politovskaya, Boris Nemtsov, Sergei Magnitsky, and others who dared to speak out, write, and protest against the erosion of democracy in Putin’s Russia,” Hoyer said, “and those responsible will eventually be held accountable.”
During his 2015 interview with Capital News Service, Kara-Murza said that there will always be people in Russia “who have the courage to continue” opposing their government, despite the risk.
“Unfortunately, the price of human life is really low in our country,” he said. “Stalin’s infamous saying that, ‘There is no man, there is no problem’ is still relevant.”