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AFP
April 20, 2021

Navalny moved to hospital under Western pressure

World

AFP
April 20, 2021

MOSCOW: Russia’s penitentiary service on Monday said it was transferring ailing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison hospital, as the EU warned it would hold Moscow "responsible" for the state of his health.

The United States on Sunday threatened Russia with "consequences" if President Vladimir Putin’s major domestic opponent -- who is on hunger strike -- dies in jail after Navalny’s private doctors warned at the weekend he could pass away at "any minute". Russia’s prison authorities -- which have barred Navalny’s own medical team from visiting him -- said its doctors had decided to move him to a medical facility on the premises of another penal colony outside Moscow.

But the authorities insisted the jailed anti-corruption campaigner’s condition was "satisfactory", and said he was taking vitamin supplements as part of medical treatment. Fears over Navalny’s fate have added more fuel to soaring tensions between Moscow and the West over a buildup of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine and a spiralling diplomatic row with EU member state the Czech Republic.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc held the Russian authorities "responsible for the health situation of Mr Navalny" as foreign ministers from its 27 nations held virtual talks.

Borrell called his condition "very worrisome" and repeated demands that Moscow allows Navalny’s chosen team of doctors to inspect him. Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis pushed further, saying the bloc should prepare "a humanitarian mission" to fly him out of Russia for treatment.

"If the international community does not respond, the regime’s opposition leader will be sent silently to his death," Landsbergis said.

Navalny, 44, was arrested in Russia in January after returning from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he says was carried out by Moscow -- accusations denied by Putin’s administration. Sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for embezzlement, he began a hunger strike on March 31 demanding medical treatment for back pain and numbness to his hands and legs.

The EU in October sanctioned six Russian officials over the Novichok nerve agent attempt and in February sanctioned another four individuals over Navalny’s arrest and sentencing. France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday those sanctions could be expanded. Navalny’s supporters have called for a major protest across Russia on Wednesday to demand his release, hours after a state-of-the-nation address by Putin.