As Western powers raise alarm, Navalny transferred to hospital

The move comes after Navalny’s physician warned the 44-year-old could be on the verge of death in jail due to his rapidly deteriorating health.

Navalny, a prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike at the end of March [File: Press service of Simonovsky District Court/Handout via Reuters]

Russia’s prison authority has announced that Alexey Navalny is being hospitalised amid mounting global concern for the hunger-striking Kremlin critic, whose health is reportedly deteriorating rapidly.

The prison service said in a statement on Monday that the jailed opposition politician, who is in the third week of his hunger strike, is being moved to a hospital for prisoners.

The statement added that the 44-year-old’s condition had been deemed “satisfactory” and he had agreed to take vitamin supplements.

The hospital he was being transferred to is located in a penal colony in Vladimir, a city 180km (112 miles) east of Moscow, according to the statement.

Navalny has been imprisoned in a separate Vladimir facility since last month after he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

The transfer came after several Western leaders called for Moscow to grant Navalny immediate access to medical care in the wake of warnings he “could die at any moment”.

Navalny announced a hunger strike at the end of March in protest against what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.

His allies said at the weekend his life was hanging by a thread and called on his supporters to attend pro-Navalny protests on Wednesday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to deliver his annual state of the nation address on the same day.

‘Deeply worried’

The reports of Navalny’s worsening condition have prompted alarm in Europe and the United States, with growing calls for Russian authorities to grant him immediate access to medical treatment.

The episode has further strained Moscow’s ties with the West.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top diplomat, on Monday said the bloc held Russian authorities “responsible” for Navalny’s “health situation”.

Borrell’s comments came before a video conference of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers, who on Sunday released a joint statement warning of the risks to Navalny’s life and called for his “immediate and unconditional release” from prison.

Sharing the statement on Twitter, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday said she was “deeply worried”.

“He must immediately receive access to proper medical treatment,” von der Leyen tweeted.

Separately on Sunday, the United States warned there would be “consequences” for Moscow if Navalny died in prison.

US President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House had “communicated to the Russian government” that Navalny’s fate was in the Kremlin’s hands, adding Moscow would be “held accountable by the international community” over his wellbeing.

“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 am not going to telegraph that publicly at this point, but we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr Navalny dies,” Sullivan told US broadcaster CNN.

Navalny ‘could die at any moment’

Navalny’s physician, Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said on Saturday that test results he received from the Kremlin critic’s family show him with sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels which indicate impaired kidneys.

“Our patient could die at any moment,” Ashikhmin said in a Facebook post.

Navalny’s personal physicians have not been allowed to see him in prison.

While on hunger strike, he has accused prison authorities of threatening to put him in a straitjacket to force-feed him.

Russian authorities have dismissed those claims, suggesting Navalny was exaggerating his medical condition to grab attention, and had refused prison medical care. They have also pledged to ensure he survives.

Navalny’s case has drawn widespread attention since he was arrested in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

Russian authorities have rejected that accusation.

In February, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany.

The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated, and which the European Сourt of Human Rights has deemed unlawful.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities and towns across Russia earlier this year to demand Navalny’s release.

The wave of demonstrations was the largest show of public dissent in the country in years and posed a huge challenge to the Kremlin, which denounced the protests as illegal.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies