The Russian Prison Service said on Monday it was transferring sick dissident Alexei Navalny, who is on the 20th day of a hunger strike, to a prison hospital – amid serious fears for his health.
The move comes a day after the United States threatened the Kremlin with “consequences” if President Vladimir Putin’s main national opponent dies behind bars, according to Agence France-Presse.
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Navalny’s private doctors warned over the weekend that he could die at “any minute.”
Russian prison authorities, who banned the 44-year-old’s own medical team from visiting him, said his doctors decided to transfer him to a medical facility on the premises of another penal colony in Vladimir, a town located about 180 km east of Moscow. .
But they insisted that the Kremlin critic’s condition was “satisfactory”, adding that he was taking vitamin supplements as part of his medical treatment.
Navalny’s doctor, Dr Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said on Saturday that test results he received from Navalny’s family showed him greatly elevated potassium levels, which can cause cardiac arrest, and creatinine levels elevations indicating kidney failure.
“Our patient can die at any time,” he wrote on Facebook.
Navalny went on a hunger strike to protest his refusal to let his doctors visit him when he began to experience severe back pain and loss of sensation in his legs.
The Russian state prison service, FSIN, said Navalny was receiving all the medical help he needed.
His allies have called for a nationwide rally on Wednesday, the very day Putin is due to deliver his annual State of the Nation address.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers assess the bloc’s strategy towards Russia amid deteriorating health of Navalny and following the military build-up at Ukraine’s borders.
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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has already attacked the Kremlin over his arrest and treatment of Navalny on Sunday and has insisted he have access to doctors he trusts.
“Overall, relations with Russia are not improving, but on the contrary, tension is increasing on various fronts,” Borrell said in a statement.
Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning he attributes to the Kremlin – charges rejected by Russian officials.
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His arrest sparked numerous protests across Russia.
A court ordered Navalny to serve a two-and-a-half-year sentence in the slammer for a 2014 embezzlement conviction which he said was fabricated and the European Court of Human Rights found “arbitrary and patently unreasonable “.
Last month, the politician was moved to a notorious penal colony east of Moscow.
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