WASHINGTON: The United States warned Moscow of “consequences” if the hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny dies in prison, as the opposition politician’s team called for mass protests across Russia to help save his life.
A day after Navalny’s doctors said Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic could die “any minute,” US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor said Washington had warned the Kremlin that it would be “held accountable by the international community” if he died. France, Germany and the European Union on Sunday joined a growing international chorus of protest at Navalny’s plight, and EU foreign ministers will discuss the situation on Monday.
Concerns over Navalny’s health have mounted against the background of a spike in tensions between Moscow and the West over a litany of issues, including Russia’s troop build-up on Ukraine’s border, interference in US elections and other perceived hostile activities.
Navalny’s team on Sunday called for massive protests across Russia on Wednesday evening, just hours after Putin is set to deliver his state-of-the-nation address. “It’s time to act. We are talking not just about Navalny’s freedom but his life,” Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov said on Facebook.
Volkov said Wednesday’s rally could become a decisive battle against “absolute evil” or Russia’s last opposition rally for years to come. Volkov, who heads Navalny’s regional offices, called for a huge turnout. “We’ve found ourselves in an extreme, absolutely urgent situation,” he said. “Extreme times call for extreme measures.”
‘Won’t be allowed to die’
There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin, but the Russian ambassador in London, Andrei Kelin, said Navalny “will not be allowed to die in prison.”
“But I can say that Mr. Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan,” Kelin told the BBC. Authorities have ramped up pressure on Navalny’s supporters in recent months, detaining more than 10,000 protesters at opposition demonstrations in January and February.