Allies of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are raising alarm bells over the imprisoned Kremlin critic’s rapidly deteriorating health as he carries out a hunger strike behind bars while his body is still suffering from the effects of a poisoning last year. Navalny has been in a hunger strike for three weeks to protest the refusal of prison officials to allow him to see a private doctor to treat back pain and a loss of feelings in his legs.
Over the weekend, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, a personal physician, said test results show Navalny “could die at any moment.” Navalny’s blood tests show he has a high level of potassium that could lead to a potentially lethal irregular heartbeat. “A patient with this level of potassium should be in intensive care as at any moment a fatal arrhythmia could develop,” Dr. Ashikhmin wrote on Facebook. “Alexei is dying,” Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on Facebook. “In his condition, it is a matter of days. And on the weekend lawyers just can’t get to him, and no one knows what will happen on Monday.”
Navalny’s allies are calling on his supporters to take part in what they hope will be the largest street protest in modern Russian history on Wednesday to call attention to Navalny’s plight as well as the way his supporters are being persecuted. “Things are developing too quickly and too badly,” reads a statement posted on Navalny’s website announcing plans for the protests across the country. “We can no longer wait and postpone. An extreme situation demands extreme decisions.” The protest will take place the same day as President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to give his annual state-of-the-nation speech.
There has also been reaction from Washington with Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warning there will be consequences if Navalny dies while behind bars. “We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community,” Sullivan told CNN. “In terms of the specific measures that we would undertake, we are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose and I’m not going to telegraph that publicly at this point.”
Russian authorities insist they have tried to provide Navalny with the appropriate medical care but he has refused it and insists on being treated outside of the prison. In an interview with the BBC, Russia’s ambassador to Britain dismissed the warnings about Navalny’s health but said the 44-year-old opposition leader “will not be allowed to die in prison.” Andrei Kelin characterized Navalny’s demands for medical treatment as a way to “attract attention.”
As Navalny’s health makes news around the world, a group of 11 Russian politicians published an open letter saying Putin is personally responsible for Navalny’s life. “We regard what is happening in relation to Navalny as an attempt on the life of a politician, committed out of personal and political hatred,” reads the letter that Russian citizens can sign. “You, the President of the Russian Federation, personally bear responsibility for the life of Alexey Navalny on the territory of the Russian Federation, including in prison facilities.”