Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is facing a life and death situation and has a high chance of suffering a cardiac arrest at “any minute”, according to his doctors.
Russia’s most prominent opposition leader rose to international prominence by organizing anti-government protests and running for office to advocate for anti-corruption reforms in Russia, as well as against President Vladimir Putin and his government.
Described as “the man Vladimir Putin fears most” by The Wall Street Journal, Navalny barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent last year. He was airlifted to Berlin for medical treatment and released a month later. Navalny suspected Putin of being behind his poisoning, and an investigation found that agents from the Federal Security Service (FSB) were involved.
He flew to Russia from Berlin earlier this year after spending nearly half a year recovering from the poisoning. However, upon arrival, he was arrested at passport control and later sentenced to more than two years in prison.
The EU, the United Kingdom, and the United States retaliated by sanctioning senior Russian officials.
RUSSIA’S BIGGEST PROTESTS
Following his arrest and the release of his documentary on ‘Putin’s Palace’, which accused Putin of corruption, there were widespread protests across the country. During the initial days, protests were held in 198 towns and cities across Russia, making them one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the Russian protests of 2011–2013.
On February 2, his suspended term was converted to a prison sentence, which means he will spend more than two and a half years in a corrective labour colony in Vladimir Oblast. Soon after the arrest, Putin’s most prominent opponent went on a hunger strike to demand adequate medical attention for his back pain and leg and hand numbness.
While in prison, Navalny and human rights groups have accused Russian authorities of using torture against him. Russian authorities have stated that they have offered Navalny adequate medical treatment, but he has refused to take it.
However, the prison has refused to allow Navalny to be treated by a doctor of his choosing from outside the facility.
Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny’s personal doctor, and three other physicians, including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin, have asked prison authorities for urgent access stating that their patient could “die any minute,” pointing to the opposition politician’s high potassium levels and stating that Navalny should be moved to intensive care.
Amidst mounting international pressure, the Biden administration too has warned the Russian government of consequences if the Putin critic dies in custody.
CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTS
According to Human Rights Watch, Russian police violently and sometimes brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrations, detaining over 5,000 people across Russia. That broke the previous record for the most people detained in a single day, which was set on January 23, 2021.
During the protests, there have been several reports of police violence captured on camera by journalists and citizens, detentions of journalists and passers-by, and the filing of criminal charges against protesters.
Further, a court in Moscow has set a hearing for next week in a case brought by prosecutors to recognize Navalny’s organization as extremist, according to The Guardian. If a decision is taken soon, the courts could order the liquidation of much of Navalny’s organization by the end of the month, threatening fines and jail time for those who continue to support him.
Amidst mounting pressure, Alexei Navalny was transferred to a prison hospital on April 19, but his health has reportedly continued to deteriorate.
Navalny’s revolution has marked the beginning of an entirely new episode in Russia. It remains to be seen what lies ahead for politics in the country which has seen the rise and dominance of Putin, who recently signed a law allowing him to rule till 2036.