Alexei Navalny’s leading Kremlin critic “hangs in balance” as he continues his hunger strike in prison, one of his closest aides said in a video on Sunday as he called for mass protests across Russia.
“We don’t know how long he can hold out. But it is clear that we don’t have time,” said Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s best strategists, in the video that was posted on YouTube and on Navalny’s website.
Volkov called for demonstrations across Russia on Wednesday, saying the short notice was due to Navalny’s “life being in abeyance”. The 44-year-old’s condition is critical, he added.
Navalny, the most visible and stubborn critic of President Vladimir Putin, went on hunger strike 18 days ago to protest the prison authorities’ refusal to allow a private doctor to see him to diagnose severe back pain and loss of sensation in his legs.
The Russian Correctional Service says it is receiving adequate care.
But the National Security Advisor to the White House, Jake Sullivan said CNN Sunday There will be consequences if Navalny dies in custody.
“We have told the Russian government that what happens to Mr Navalny in their care is their responsibility and that they will be held accountable by the international community,” he said.
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On Saturday, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, the test results he received from Navalny’s family showed severely elevated potassium levels, which could lead to cardiac arrest and signs of kidney failure.
“Our patient could die at any moment,” he said.
There was no immediate response from police or government officials to the call to protest, but the response is likely to be harsh.
Police arrested more than 10,000 people in nationwide protests in January, including demanding the release of Navalny.
After that, the Navalny team declared a moratorium on the violence prevention demonstrations and said they would hold a major protest once 500,000 people registered online to participate.
While that number is not quite reached with nearly 460,000 people registered, Volkov said the time to act is now. “It is no longer possible to wait and postpone,” he said. “An extreme situation requires extreme solutions.”
On Friday, prosecutors in Moscow asked a court to label the Navalny anti-corruption group, which has investigated the Kremlin elite and Putin himself, and its regional headquarters as “extremist” organizations, Russian state news agency Tass reported. The human rights organization Amnesty International named it “new attempt to end dissent completely” in Russia.
Wednesday’s protests were called for symbolically resonant locations – Manezh Square in Moscow, just outside the Kremlin walls, and the sprawling Palace Square in St. Petersburg.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 when he was returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for five months from the Soviet nerve agent poisoning, which he accuses the Kremlin.
Russian officials have denied any involvement and even questioned whether Navalny was poisoned, which has been confirmed by several European laboratories.
Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison because his long recovery in Germany violated a suspended sentence for fraud in a case that Navalny said was politically motivated.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.