Allies of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have unveiled plans for what they hope will be the largest protests in modern Russian history as the US warned Russia it would pay a price if he died in jail from his hunger-strike.
The protest date of Wednesday was brought forward after a medical trade union with ties to Mr Navalny said on Saturday he was in a critical condition, citing medical tests which it said showed that Mr Navalny’s kidneys could soon fail, which could lead to cardiac arrest.
“Things are developing too quickly and too badly,” his allies wrote in a statement on Mr Navalny’s website, announcing their plans for country-wide street demonstrations that they portrayed as a bid to win him life-saving medical care and as a protest over a crackdown on his supporters.
“An extreme situation demands extreme decisions,” they said.
The fate of 44-year-old Mr Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, is adding to already acute strains in Russia’s ties with the US.
President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that the US government had told Russian officials “there will be consequences” if Mr Navalny died in prison.
European Union foreign ministers are expected to discuss Mr Navalny’s case on Monday and Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat, pledged to hold Russia to account over the matter too.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for Navalny to receive immediate medical care as did the US State Department, while French President Emmanuel Macron said world powers should draw “clear red lines” with Russia and consider possible sanctions when they are crossed.
The UK was also deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptable treatment of Mr Navalny and the continued deterioration of his health, the foreign ministry said.
The authorities have broken up pro-Navalny protests by force in the past, detaining thousands, and Wednesday’s planned demonstration falls on the same day as President Vladimir Putin gives a televised speech.
That sets up a showdown that Mr Navalny’s allies described as the last chance to stop Russia from sinking into “darkness”.
“A really tough final battle between normal people and absolute evil lies ahead,” they said.
Russian authorities accuse Mr Navalny of exaggerating his medical condition to grab attention, and of refusing prison medical care.
They have pledged to ensure he survives.
“He will not be allowed to die in prison but I can say that Mr Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan,” Andrei Kelin, Russia’s ambassador to the UK, said in a BBC interview on Sunday.
Mr Navalny has said prison authorities are threatening to put him in a straitjacket to force-feed him unless he accepts food.
Some activists have called for him to be flown out of the country for emergency medical care.
Mr Navalny travelled to Germany last August for treatment following a nerve agent poisoning attack he blamed on Putin.
He was arrested in January when he returned to Russia and jailed for two and a half years in February for parole violations he said were fabricated.
The Kremlin has said it has seen no evidence he was poisoned and has denied any Russian role if he was.
The authorities cast Mr Navalny and his supporters as US-backed subversives bent on destabilising Russia and moves are underway to declare them extremists, opening the door to long jail terms.
Mr Navalny began refusing food on 31 March in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to provide him with adequate medical care for acute back and leg pain.
Prison authorities say Mr Navalny was offered proper medical care but refused, insisting on being treated by a doctor of his choice from outside the facility, a request they have declined.
Mr Navalny’s allies say he refused prison medical treatment because it is outdated and, at times, even dangerous.