Russia’s prison service said on Monday it had moved jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a prison hospital after supporters warned his condition had worsened nearly three weeks into a hunger strike.
Navalny, 44, was moved to a facility that “specialises in dynamic care for similar patients” and is in “satisfactory condition” under daily supervision from a doctor, the Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement. He has agreed to take vitamins, it added.
The anti-corruption activist’s supporters say his life is “hanging by a thread” from heightened creatine levels that could bring about kidney failure, as well as potentially fatal levels of potassium that could cause a cardiac arrest at “any moment”.
Navalny, the most prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, went on hunger strike last month in protest at the conditions in the prison, which he likened to “torture”.
Wardens have refused to let him see a doctor of his choosing for severe nerve pain from two herniated discs in his back. After he began the hunger strike, Navalny claimed wardens started grilling chicken in his presence and shoving sweets into his pockets to tease him.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a tweet that the prison hospital was “just as much a torture camp, just with a big medical ward where they transfer the seriously ill. The only way to understand this is that Navalny’s condition has worsened. So much so, that even a torture camp admits it.”
Navalny’s health has deteriorated as the Kremlin appears increasingly resolved to crush his movement. His supporters are organising what they hope will be Russia’s largest-ever protests for Wednesday, when Putin is set to give his annual state of the nation address.
On Monday, the prosecutor-general’s office said it would charge social media companies that failed to remove calls for the protest from their platforms and punish parents of underage children who attended.
Russia’s interior ministry called on people to avoid the protests. “Any aggressive actions by participants in unsanctioned public events . . . will be treated as a threat to public security and immediately quashed,” it said in a statement.
State prosecutors said last week they would move to declare Navalny’s organisation “extremist”, equating it with Islamist terrorist groups and exposing his supporters to charges that carry sentences of up to 10 years in prison. Most of the group’s top leadership is in exile or under house arrest, while police have detained several other pro-Navalny activists across Russia in recent weeks.
Navalny was arrested in January immediately after returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on Putin. The Kremlin, which maintains Navalny is a US agent intent on destroying Russia, has denied any involvement in the poisoning and suggested Navalny concocted it himself to make Putin look bad.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed Navalny “at some length” with Nikolai Patrushev on Monday, secretary of Russia’s security council, a White House spokesperson told the FT.
EU foreign ministers also planned to discuss Navalny’s health at a meeting on Monday. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a tweet on Sunday that she was “deeply worried” about Navalny’s health and called for “his immediate and unconditional release”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia was “paying no [attention] whatsoever” to western calls for Navalny’s release.
“The president can’t take any decisions about monitoring the health of prisoners,” Peskov said, according to news agency Interfax. “I don’t have any information about the health of the prisoner in question, and so I can’t put any faith in your claims about his supposed critical condition.”
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson