German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron held talks on Wednesday with Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, about using the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine in a desperate game of inoculation catch-up.

The news of the conference call came on the same day that it was announced that a second long-serving senior doctor has died suddenly at the Siberian hospital where opposition figure Alexey Navalny was first treated for poisoning last August. Although the Kremlin denied that Navalny had been poisoned, the medical staff at the hospital in Omsk administered drugs specifically intended to counter an attack with deadly poison. The hospital later released a statement echoing the Kremlin line.

The first doctor to die, Serguei Maximishin (55), was deputy medical director of the hospital, while the second victim, Agishev Rustam, was head of the traumatology and orthopaedic services.

The disappearances of two of his doctors in the space of a few months also raise questions for Navalny’s entourage, respected French daily Le Figaro said on Wednesday: “After the death of Sergei Maximishin in February, Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s chief of staff, told CNN that this doctor “knew more than anyone about Alexei’s condition… So I cannot rule out the possibility of a criminal act,” he said.

FILE PHOTO: Putin Reuters