Biden Calls Navalny’s Situation ‘Totally Unfair’ After Doctors Sound Alarm About His Condition

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is seen on a screen during a video court hearing on January 28 to consider an appeal on his arrest.  

U.S. President Joe Biden on April 17 called the situation of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny "unfair" after doctors and Navalny’s spokeswoman warned about his deteriorating health due to a hunger strike.

"It’s totally, totally unfair and totally inappropriate," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, responding to a question about Navalny’s reportedly worsening condition. Biden also noted that his situation comes after Navalny suffered through a poisoning last summer.

Navalny’s health has rapidly deteriorated and he could suffer cardiac arrest "any minute," according to his personal doctor and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, who pleaded for access to Navalny in a letter to Russia’s Federal Prison Service.

The letter was posted on April 17 to the Twitter account of Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, who said the team of doctors expressed their readiness to organize negotiations and a consultation.

The doctors’ statement said that blood tests showed that Navalny’s potassium count had reached a "critical level."

"This means both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute," the letter said.

Navalny, 44, announced his hunger strike at the end of last month in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to allow him to receive proper medical care for acute back and leg pain.

The opposition leader said on April 16 that prison authorities were threatening to put him in a straightjacket to force-feed him.

The New York Times also weighed in on Navalny’s situation in an editorial on April 17, saying the decision about whether to allow doctors to see him "clearly rests with President Vladimir Putin," whom they urged to comply with the doctors’ requests.

"Mr. Putin should understand that letting Mr. Navalny now perish in a labor camp would solidly confirm Mr. Putin as a ‘killer,’ a characterization President Biden recently said he shares, and as a vengeful despot willing to go to any lengths against his critics," the newspaper’s editorial said. "Mr. Putin has been around long enough to know how that would play abroad, and among Russians already showing fatigue with his increasingly authoritarian and open-ended rule."

The editorial also noted that more than 70 prominent international writers, artists, and academics have signed a letter to Putin calling on him to ensure that Navalny receives the medical treatment to which he is entitled under Russian law.

The letter was published in British, French, German, and Italian newspapers. Among the prominent people who signed it are Nobel laureates in literature John Coetzee, Svetlana Aleksievich, Louise Glueck, Herta Mueller, and Orhan Pamuk; Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman; actors Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Duchovny; and authors Tom Stoppard, J.K. Rowling, and Michael Cunningham.

Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany where he was treated for poisoning in Siberia with what was defined by European labs as a nerve agent in August last year. He has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin has denied.

A Moscow court sentenced the opposition leader in February to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were politically motivated.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook on April 17 that the situation reminded her of the helplessness she felt after his poisoning.

"Now Aleksei is dying. In his condition, it is a matter of days. And over the weekend, lawyers just can’t get to him, and no one knows what will happen on Monday," she wrote.

Yarmysh wrote that she did not want mass protests expected to take place in the coming weeks to demand Navalny’s release to attract large crowds only because he had died, and called on supporters to sign an online petition indicating they will attend in advance.

Saying that Putin only reacts to street protests, Yarmysh wrote, "This rally is no longer Navalny’s chance for freedom, it is a condition for his life."

With reporting by AFP and AP

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