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Allies of Kremlin critic Navalny warn he could just have days to live

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Alexei Navalny’s daughter has pleaded with Russian authorities to let a doctor see Putin’s leading critic, as his condition has reportedly sharply worsened.

A riot police officer stands guard in front of the Kremlin after Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was sentenced to three and a half years in jail, in Moscow, Russia. File picture: Reuters/Evgenia Novozhenina

MOSCOW – “Allow a doctor to see my dad.” The heartbreaking plea from Alexei Navalny’s daughter came amid a wave of dismay and horror across the globe over Russian authorities’ refusal to let Putin’s leading critic see his doctor, as his condition has reportedly sharply worsened.

Darya Navalnaya’s plea on Twitter for medical care for her father comes as he faces his 19th day on a hunger strike in prison over Russian authorities’ refusal to let him see his doctor. The 20-year-old is currently in California studying at Stanford University.

Russia’s refusal to allow Putin’s main political rival access to his doctor comes after his press secretary Kira Yarmysh tweeted that he was “dying,” and several doctors said he could go into cardiac arrest at any time. Yarmysh said he had days to live.

Navalny’s team on Sunday announced new protests in cities across Russia on Wednesday evening, saying that Navlany was being killed in front of the eyes of the world.

“Have you ever seen with your own eyes how they kill a person?” said the movement in a statement. “You are seeing it right now. And no matter how much you want to abstract, not think about it or change the subject, it won’t change the fact that they are killing Alexei Navalny. In a terrible way. In front of us all.”

It said everyone must face the question of whether they were ready to protest to “do something to save the life of a person who has been risking it for us for many years.”

Navalny’s condition and Russia’s refusal to help him threatens to further taint President Vladimir Putin’s reputation, after US President Joe Biden recently agreed he was “a killer” in a television interview.

Biden on Saturday called Russia’s stance “totally unfair and totally inappropriate,” and on Friday The Economist and Le Monde published an open letter from dozens of eminent writers, historians, actors and celebrities calling on Putin to allow Navalny to see his doctor.

Navalny’s wife, who was able to visit him for the first time is prison last week, and spoke to him through glass on a telephone receiver, said he had difficulty speaking and had to put the receiver down and lie down because he was so weak. She left worried about his condition.

Navalny’s Twitter account on Friday said authorities had threatened to put him in a straitjacket and force-feed him, and he demanded they refrain. He has no access to the account but lawyers have regular contact with him and posts are made by his team on his behalf.

Navalny’s post said, “now I just point a finger at the point of the law and say: Sorry. Don’t force-feed me.”

Navalny nearly died last August when he was poisoned with a chemical weapon in the same class as the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, an attack US and European authorities have blamed on state agents and responded to by sanctioning a range of Russian organisations and individuals.

For two days after the poison attack, Russian authorities refused his family’s demands to allow his evacuation to Germany for medical treatment. The Kremlin says there is no evidence Navalny was poisoned and prosecutors have declined to open a case into the incident.

Navalny suggested on Friday that his recent symptoms, which include numbness in his legs and one hand, could be related to his poisoning in August, or even a new state poisoning.

“They are afraid that it will turn out that the loss of sensation in my limbs may be associated with poisoning. The old one. Or something new, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

His account has carried hair-raising stories of the efforts of Russian prison authorities to break him during his hunger strike – slipping candies into the pockets of his prison clothing and frying chicken in front of him while videoing his reaction.

The doctors who warned Navalny’s life was in danger included Yaroslav Ashikhmin, Alexei Erlikh, Alexei Kashcheyev, Alexander Polupan and Andrei Volna.

“We, the doctors, are ready to act,” tweeted several doctors associated with Navalny ally, Anastasia Vasilyeva, who heads a small independent medical workers’ union. “The question remaining is whether the penal colony is willing to co-operate to save the life of Navalny.

“We have been waiting for two days with growing concern,” the group said, adding that high potassium levels in Navalny’s blood were indicative of kidney failure and severe heart-rhythm disturbances threatened cardiac arrest.

“Action must be taken immediately,” the statement said. Other doctors also posted on the urgency of the situation on social media.

“We are talking about life and death, with no exaggeration,” tweeted Navalny aide Ivan Zhdanov, who fled Russia but whose father was recently arrested over protests in Russia.

“Navalny could die at any moment. This moment may be today. We require urgent, immediate admission from doctors,” tweeted Maria Pevchikh, an investigator with Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

When he returned from Germany in January after treatment for the poisoning, Navalny was immediately arrested. He was tried and in February he was jailed for failing to report to authorities as part of his probation conditions on an earlier case.

He has said that he couldn’t report because at the time he was under treatment in Germany. He says the many cases mounted against him are trumped up political cases designed to silence him and deter others.

Navalny’s Friday post said he had a right to see a doctor and a right to refuse to be force fed. It said he refused to be a slave to the system.

“I protest not only for myself, but also for hundreds of thousands of those who have no rights,” according to his statement.

Russian state media have unleashed a blizzard of propaganda against Navalny, claiming that he is a Nazi, a CIA agent and that he is motivated only by money. They claim his searing anti-corruption exposes are fabricated.

State media has also broadcast video of Navalny in jail and recently dispatched Maria Butina, who was jailed as a Russian agent in the United States, to his prison where she loudly berated him and told him his jail conditions were better than a hotel.

As authorities scale up their crackdown on the opposition and civil society, Russia’s prosecutor general Friday commenced action to designate Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his political network of regional offices known as Navalny Headquarters as an extremist organization.

The Washington Post