Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been transferred to hospital amid concerns he has become critically ill.
The Putin critic is now nearly three weeks into a hunger strike he declared in protest at not being allowed access to doctors he trusted. Over the weekend, his press secretary claimed he was a “matter of days away” from death, with the Kremlin undergoing a slow-motion “murder.”
Mr Navalny, who returned to Russia in January after a near-death scrape with Novichok, appears to be in poor and deteriorating health. He has complained of serious problems with his spine and nervous system, likely now exacerbated by the continued hunger strike. Prison authorities have denied his requests to be seen by anyone other than prison doctors.
Anastasia Vasilyeva, Mr Navalny’s personal doctor, said blood results released by the state already showed evidence of kidney failure. The elevated levels of potassium and creatinine had created a “medical emergency,” she claimed. “They show renal failure and that heart problems could follow — from ventricular fibrillation right up to cardiac arrest.”
On Sunday, Daria Navalnaya, Mr Navalny’s daughter, made a plea to prison authorities via social media. “Allow a doctor to see my dad,” a post read on Twitter and Instagram.
Responding to what they described as the urgency of the situation, Mr Navalny’s team brought forward plans for nationwide protests. These were originally planned once 500,000 people signed up to participate but with numbers still 37,000 short, key lieutenants Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov announced a change in strategy.
Protests will now take place on Wednesday evening, the same day that Vladimir Putin is due to make a State of the Nation speech, they said.
The Kremlin has already indicated protests will be met with a heavy hand.
“If there will be unsanctioned protests, they will be illegal, and law enforcement will do what it needs to do,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday.
It was not the Kremlin’s job to undertake “real-time monitoring of the health of Russian prisoners,” Mr Peskov added.
The state prison service, which confirmed Mr Navalny’s move into a medical facility inside another prison, has continued to insisted the Kremlin critic’s health remains “satisfactory”.
“He is seen daily by a doctor,” a statement read. “With his agreement he has been prescribed vitamin therapy.”
Mr Navalny’s colleagues interpreted those words as acknowledgment his condition had deteriorated significantly.
“Things have got so bad that even a torture farm have admitted it,” said Ivan Zhdanov.
“They are just trying to pretend all is well with Alexei’s health ahead of the rallies — don’t fall for it.”
At the weekend, the US warned Russia of “consequences” if Navalny were to die in jail.