The health of Alexei Navalny is becoming a question of diplomatic urgency.
The Russian opposition leader is on a hunger strike in prison — and his health deteriorating.
"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," said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking yesterday on CNN.
The Russian state penitentiary service said that Navalny was moved on Monday to a hospital at another prison in Vladamir, a city about 110 miles east of Moscow, and that he agreed to receive vitamin therapy. But close advisers have cast doubt on this claim, and are seeking to confirm Navalny's whereabouts and health status.
Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin said Saturday that test results provided by the family show Navalny has sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, as well as heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidney function.
“Our patient could die at any moment,” Ashikhmin said in a Facebook post.
Navalny began a hunger strike to protest the refusal to let his doctors visit, when he began experiencing severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs.
In January, Navalny, one of Vladimir Putin's most outspoken critics, was arrested upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was receiving medical care after nerve-agent poisoning. The arrest sparked mass nationwide protests.
Vladimir Milov, an adviser to Alexei Navalny, joins The World from Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss Navalny's current condition.
Marco Werman: Vladimir, first of all, what can you tell us about Alexei Navalny's current condition?
Vladimir Milov: There is a grave danger to his health, which is pretty unusual to expect because I've seen many hunger strikes before and usually after that, almost three weeks into a hunger strike, the condition of a person who does it must be essentially very bad. So, we [have] got to do something urgently to save him.
Navalny’s personal medical team wants to treat him, but they weren't granted access. How do you know exactly what his medical condition is?
We know some bits and pieces and fragments of information. First, we know his reports about his health condition, how he feels [about] himself. There were some of the medical test results provided to his team somehow by the penal colony. So, we know generally bits and pieces of information. Bottom line, the main conclusion from that is that there is a justified grave concern for his health. And some of the medics have been commenting [on] it, going as far as saying that he could die in a minute.
Until doctors actually see him, I guess we won't know precisely what's going on. How worried are you that Navalny could soon die in prison?
I'm very severely worried for two reasons. First, we now clearly see that there are symptoms that he is not fully recovered from the Novichok poisoning. Some symptoms like numbness in the hands, not in the legs, but in the hands of Navalny, show that there is no connection with the back pain. This is probably some residual effect from his poisoning. Point number two is, he's been firmly denied real, normal medical treatment since he first complained about his health condition. All of that combined, this is all increasing our concern because it means that some foul play involved, the authorities have something to hide.
We know Alexei Navalny as the man who was poisoned likely by Putin's government and who still returned to Russia to fight against Putin. Vladimir, you're an opposition politician yourself. What is it like being an opponent of Vladimir Putin's?
It's dangerous, it's very dangerous because, listen, I've seen many of my friends, colleagues being either murdered, like Boris Nemtsov, or facing murder attempts, sometimes more than one, like Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was poisoned twice. We all face continuous threats of being arrested, intimidated, physically assaulted. It's really dangerous.
But on the bright side of things, I have to say that when you're in Russia, and you were a prominent opposition figure, you're being approached by many people on the streets, in transportation, in stores during the day who say, "Listen, we saw you on YouTube, we know what you're doing, we know you're part of Navalny’s team, we greatly appreciate and support what you do, we're all against Putin."
So, there is a major movement, a bottom-up, grassroots movement in Russia, emerging for defending the normal future, the freedom of our country against Putin's regime. So, Navalny and his team, we really did a lot in the past four years to force this great awakening of the Russian people, which is happening right now. So, danger is one thing, but there is also the positive, the bright side, which tells you that Russia has a future, a normal democratic future.
Vladimir, finally, we heard Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, earlier saying that there will be repercussions if anything happens to Navalny. What role do you think the international community has here?
First, we are very grateful for solidarity expressed by various members of the international democratic community. However, I think in terms of Western governments, response is a bit too slow because they say that, yeah, there will be consequences if Navalny dies, but that might happen any minute now. So, some stronger action is needed. If there is real solidarity just beyond words we still hope for, something of that is going to happen. We have been talking to American officials multiple times and there's one clear issue which I think is broadly supported by the Russian public itself — sanctions against Kremlin-linked oligarchs and financiers, enablers who actually keep and control the stolen money. That's not OK that Putin and his clique continue to rob Russia and safely store stolen money in the West. It has to be stopped. We want to see action. And I think it's going to be hugely supported by masses of [the] Russian population because oligarchs are universally hated in Russia much more than anything else.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.