Aleksei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on February 20.
Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has been transferred to a correctional facility hospital amid pressure from the West and growing concerns that his health is deteriorating rapidly as his hunger strike approached three weeks.
The coordinator of the network of Navalny’s teams across Russia, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Twitter on April 19 that Navalny’s lawyers, after clearing several bureaucratic hurdles, were allowed to enter the Correctional Colony No. 3 to see their client, who was transferred there from the Correctional Colony No. 2 in the Vladimir region. However, he added, as of late in the day, they had yet to actually see their client.
Just before the weekend, Navalny’s personal doctor and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, pleaded for access to the 44-year-old in a letter to the FSIN, saying he could suffer cardiac arrest at "any minute."
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, warned over the weekend that the Kremlin critic — who months earlier fell gravely ill after a poison attack with a chemical nerve agent — could die within "days" if action wasn’t taken soon.
Navalny’s case has further isolated Moscow at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has announced tougher economic sanctions against the Kremlin and the Czech Republic, a member of NATO and the European Union, has expelled Russian spies, accusing Moscow of playing a role in a deadly 2014 explosion at an ammunition storage depot.
Russia’s prison service said in a statement that a decision had been taken to transfer Navalny, to a nearby prison hospital and that he was in "satisfactory" condition and was being given "vitamin therapy" with his consent.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a tweet that the transfer "can only be understood to mean Navalny’s condition has worsened, and worsened in such a way that even the torturer admits it."
Speaking just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU’s 27 members, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russian authorities are "responsible for the health situation of Mr Navalny" and should allow doctors to visit him at the hospital.
The announcement of the move and the designation of his condition as "satisfactory" did little to allay the fears of Navalny’s associates.
The assessment of his health, some noted, was the same as the one given before Navalny launched a hunger strike that has seen his weight drop sharply to 76 kilograms, 17 kilos less than when he entered the notorious Correctional Colony No. 2, about 100 kilometers from Moscow.
Others warned of the conditions at the facility where Navalny had been transferred.
"That hospital is located on the territory of the maximum security Correctional Colony No. 3…. That place is used to break certain inmates, and even those inmates who were dying [of illnesses] tried to avoid being transferred to that facility. There are no physicians or nurses there. I do not know how [Navalny] is going to receive treatment there," Dmitry Dyomushkin, an outspoken Russian nationalist who once served time in the Correctional Colony No. 2 told Current Time on April 19.
Some Russian media reports cited other former inmates in the past who backed up Dyomushkin’s comments about Correctional Colony No.3.
"Aleksei was not transferred to a hospital — he was transferred to another penal colony – to IK-3, to a prison where TB [tuberculosis] is treated! This is not at all a hospital where they can diagnose and prescribe treatment for his problems. We urgently demand to be allowed to hold a consultation by us, the doctors who have treated him," the team of Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, said on Twitter on April 19.
Last week Vasilyeva was detained and then fined for showing up at the prison, where she asked to be allowed to examine Navalny.
Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany, where he was treated after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020 with what was defined by European labs as a Novichok nerve agent. He has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin has denied.
A Moscow court in February converted a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence on a charge that Navalny and his supporters call politically motivated to real jail time, saying he broke the terms of the original sentence by leaving Russia for Germany for the life-saving treatment he received.
The court reduced the time Navalny must spend in prison to just over 2 1/2 years because of time already served in detention.
A close ally of Navalny’s on April 19 rang the alarm about the opposition leader’s health, saying there was "no hope" of good news.
"We don’t know what happened to him over the weekend because the lawyers aren’t allowed to visit him then. I hope we will get some news today but I’m very afraid to receive bad news," Lyubov Sobol told Ekho Moskvy radio station.
Sobol said Navalny was "under heavy psychological pressure and hard physical conditions in the penal colony," where he was placed in a group of inmates who cooperate with the prison administration and who keep him constantly under surveillance, regularly reporting to the administration about him."
Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, warned ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers that the EU will hold Moscow responsible for Navalny’s health.
"We make the Russian authorities responsible for the health situation of Mr. Navalny," Borrell said.
On April 18, Navalny’s allies called on people to stage massive protests across the country on April 21 before Navalny is harmed "irreparably."
Early on April 19, Vladimir Milov, a close associate of Navalny, announced he had fled the country to keep from getting arrested.
He said that his efforts were focused on gathering international support in order to press the Russian authorities to release Navalny.
With reporting by Current Time