Alexei Navalny’s allies called on his supporters to stage mass protests in cities across Russia on Wednesday, amid a terrible warning that the jailed Kremlin critic and opposition leader is now dangerously ill and could die “at any time”.
Navalny’s team said the situation had become so desperate there was no time to delay. They had previously said street protests would resume once they reach 500,000 signatures of support – with the current tally of around 50,000 short.
In a video posted to Navalny’s YouTube channel, his deputies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov said Navalny’s health had deteriorated so dramatically that mass public exposure was the only way to save him. Volkov urged citizens to gather at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in squares across the country.
The call sets up a confrontation between supporters of Navalny and Vladimir Putin, who is due to deliver his annual State of the Nation address at the same time. In January, the Kremlin used brute force to smash pro-Navalny street protests, and thousands of people were arrested.
“Have you ever seen with your own eyes how a person is murdered? You see it right now, ”Volkov said. He added, “If we don’t speak up now, the darkest times for free people are at hand. Russia will sink into total despair. “
In yet another crackdown, Russia’s prosecutor’s office is set to designate Navalny’s FBK anti-corruption foundation and its regional headquarters as extremist organizations. This would allow authorities to jail Navalny’s colleagues as “terrorists” for up to six years.
Over the weekend, Navalny’s allies said he was at risk of cardiac arrest at “any minute” and could be dead within days. He has been on a hunger strike for nearly three weeks and has requested – unsuccessfully – that an independent medical team be allowed to examine him.
Navalny’s daughter Dasha pleaded on Twitter for her father to receive the care he needs on Sunday. “Let a doctor see my father,” she wrote.
Navalny returned to Moscow in January from Germany after recovering from an assassination attempt. A secret unit of the Russian spy agency FSB poisoned him last summer with the nerve agent Novichok while he was traveling in Siberia, he claims. The Kremlin denies this claim.
Navalny was immediately arrested. He was later convicted in a case which he and Western governments believe is politically motivated. Navalny recently complained that he lost feeling in his legs and arms. His wife, Yulia, who visited him last week, said he now weighs 76kg – 9kg less since the start of his hunger strike – and was so weak he had to lie down.
There are few signs that the Kremlin is ready to give in or give in to demands from US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders for Navalny to be released. Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin on Sunday accused Navalny of caring behavior.
“He won’t be allowed to die in prison, but I can tell Mr. Navalny, he’s behaving like a thug, absolutely,” Kelin told the BBC. The ambassador added: “His purpose for all of this is to draw attention to himself.[self]. »
Navalny, 44, was jailed in February and is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for embezzlement at a penal colony in the city of Pokrov, about 100 km east of Moscow.
Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva and three other doctors, including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin, asked prison officials to grant them immediate access.
“Our patient can die at any minute,” Ashikhmin said on Facebook on Saturday, highlighting the opposition politician’s high potassium levels and saying Navalny should be transferred to intensive care. “A fatal arrhythmia can develop at any time.”
A blood potassium level greater than 6.0 mmol (millimole) per liter usually requires immediate treatment. Navalny was at 7.1, medics said. “This means both impaired kidney function and serious heart rhythm problems can occur from minute to minute,” a statement on Vasilyeva’s Twitter account said.
Doctors said he needed to be examined immediately “in view of the blood tests and his recent poisoning.”
Navalny spokesperson Kira Yarmysh, who was with him when he collapsed in a domestic flight after the poisoning in August, said the situation was critical again. “Alexei is dying,” she said on Facebook. “With her condition, it’s a matter of days.
She said she felt like she was “on that plane again, but this time it landed in slow motion”, pointing out that access to Navalny was restricted and that few Russians knew what was going on. was actually going on with him in prison.