Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny risks imminent death amid hunger strike, doctors warn

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Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny risks cardiac arrest at "any minute" as his health has rapidly deteriorated, doctors warned Saturday, urging immediate access to Russia's most famous prisoner.

On March 31, President Vladimir Putin's most prominent opponent went on hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.

Navalny's personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, and three more doctors including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin have asked prison officials to grant them immediate access.

"Our patient can die any minute," Ashikhmin said on Facebook on Saturday, pointing to the opposition politician's high potassium levels and saying Navalny should be moved to intensive care. "Fatal arrhythmia can develop any minute."

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned Sunday that “there will be consequences if jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny dies”.

When asked what measures the US would undertake, Sullivan told CNN that “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”.

The warning comes a day after US President Joe Biden added his voice to a growing international chorus of protest at the treatment of the activist, describing his situation as "totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate".

The Russian ambassador in London told the BBC on Sunday that Navalny "will not be allowed to die in prison".

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that the EU foreign ministers will discuss Navalny’s situation at Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels.

Maas added that in the interim "we urgently demand that Alexei Navalny receive adequate medical treatment and access to doctors he trusts".

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday that France is "extremely concerned" about the health of Navalny.

"Navalny's situation is extremely concerning," Le Drian told France 3 television. "I hope that measures are taken to ensure Navalny's physical integrity, but also his freedom," he said, adding: "There is a major responsibility here for President Putin."

Navalny, 44, was imprisoned in February and is serving two-and-a-half years on old embezzlement charges in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov around 100km east of Moscow.

Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in August 2020, which he has blamed on the Kremlin. His doctors say his hunger strike might have exacerbated his condition.

Having blood potassium levels higher than 6.0 mmol (millimole) per litre usually requires immediate treatment. Navalny's were at 7.1, the doctors said.

"This means both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute," said a statement on Vasilyeva's Twitter account.

The doctors said he had to be examined immediately "taking into account the blood tests and his recent poisoning".

'Alexei is dying'

Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh, who accompanied him when he collapsed on a plane after the poisoning last August, said the situation was critical again.

"Alexei is dying," she said on Facebook. "With his condition it's a matter of days."

She said she felt like she was "on that plane again, only this time it's landing in slow motion", pointing out that access to Navalny was restricted and few Russians were aware of what was actually going on with him in prison.

More than 70 prominent international writers, artists and academics, including Jude Law, Vanessa Redgrave and Benedict Cumberbatch, have called on Putin to ensure that Navalny receives proper treatment immediately.

Their appeal was published late Friday by France's Le Monde newspaper.

Call for protest

Aides to Navalny called on Russians Sunday to hit the streets on Wednesday to help save his life.

"It's time to act. We are talking not just about Navalny's freedom but his life," Leonid Volkov said on Facebook as he urged Russians to turn out Wednesday evening, hours after President Vladimir Putin is to deliver his state of the nation address.

Navalny's team had earlier announced plans to stage what they said would be "modern Russia's biggest protest". Navalny's allies said they would set a date once 500,000 supporters had registered with a website.

Earlier this week, Navalny's wife Yulia, who visited him in the penal colony, said her husband now weighed 76 kilograms (168 pounds) – down nine kilograms since starting his hunger strike.

On Friday, Russian prosecutors asked a court to label Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation and the network of his regional offices "extremist" organisations in a move that would outlaw them in Russia and could result in jail time for their members.

"The darkest times are beginning for free-thinking people, for civil society in Russia," said Leonid Volkov, the head of Navalny's regional offices.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)