Kremlin-imprisoned critic Navalny risks imminent death in midst of hunger strike, doctors warn

Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny risks cardiac arrest “anytime” because his health has deteriorated rapidly, doctors warned on Saturday and called for immediate access to Russia’s most famous prisoner.

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

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden cast his vote in a growing international chorus of protests against the activist’s treatment, describing his situation as “totally unfair”.

Navalny, 44, was arrested in February and is serving two and a half years on old embezzlement charges in a penal colony in the city of Pokrov, about 100 kilometers east of Moscow.

Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva and three other doctors, including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin, have asked prison officials to give them immediate access.

“Our patient can die at any time,” Ashikhmin said on Facebook on Saturday, pointing to opposition politicians’ high potassium levels, saying Navalny should be moved to intensive care.

“Fatal arrhythmia can develop every minute.”

Navalny barely survived a poisoning with Novichok’s nerve agent in August, which he has displayed at the Kremlin. His doctor says his hunger strike may have worsened his condition.

Having blood potassium levels higher than 6.0 mmol (millimoles) per liter usually requires immediate treatment. Navalnys was at 7.1, doctors said.

“This means both renal impairment and that serious heart rhythm problems can occur at any time,” said a statement on Vasilyeva’s Twitter account.

Doctors said he had to be examined immediately “in view of the blood tests and his recent poisoning”.

‘Alexei is dying’

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

“Alexei is dying,” she said on Facebook. “With his condition, it’s a few days.”

She said she felt she was “on that plane again, only this time it lands in slow motion” and points out that access to Navalny was limited and few Russians were aware of what was actually happening to him in prison.

On Saturday, Biden answered journalists’ questions about Navalny’s situation: “It is completely, completely unfair, completely inappropriate.”

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 immediate treatment.

Their appeal was published late on Friday by the French newspaper Le Monde.

Navalny’s team had previously announced plans to stage what they said would be “modern Russia’s biggest protest”. Navalny’s allies said they would set a date for the protest when 500,000 supporters had registered on a website. As of 2230 GMT on Saturday, more than 450,000 people had registered.

On Saturday, Yarmysh called on more Russians to sign up and said a large gathering could help save Navalny’s life. “Putin is only reacting to mass protests,” she added.

Earlier this week, Navalny’s wife Yulia, who visited him in the penal colony, said her husband now weighs 76 kilos (168 pounds) – nine kilos since he began his hunger strike.

On Friday, Russian prosecutors asked a court to label Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and the network of his regional offices as “extremist organizations” in a move that would ban them in Russia and could lead to imprisonment for its members.

“The darkest times are beginning for free-thinking people, for civil society in Russia,” said Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s regional office.