Russia hits back as US warns of response if opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies on hunger strike
Russia hit back defiantly after the US warned of “consequences” if jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies on hunger strike, deepening the conflict over the dissident who’s already survived an alleged assassination attempt.
“It’s obvious that Russia’s development as a strong, sovereign state is of no interest” to the West, Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said on Telegram Monday. Russia should brace for measures aimed at its vital energy sector and industry, he said.
Amid fears of more potential sanctions, the ruble traded 0.5% weaker against the dollar as of 9:57 a.m. in Moscow, the worst performer in emerging markets after the Indian rupee.
The US and Europe are pressing Putin to ensure proper medical care for Navalny, who began a hunger strike in prison March 31 to demand access to his personal doctors for acute back and leg pains. The opposition leader’s supporters on Sunday called for protests across Russia on April 21, the day Putin is due to give his annual state-of-the-nation address, after warning that the Kremlin’s most outspoken critic may be only days from death.
“We have communicated to the Russian government...they will be held accountable by the international community,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“We are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose, and I’m not going to telegraph that publicly at this point. But we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies,” Sullivan said.
Navalny has been imprisoned since March 11 at the notorious IK-2 prison camp about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow for breaking parole rules while recuperating in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia that he and Western governments blame on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny any involvement.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for the prisoner’s “immediate and unconditional release.” Navalny’s fate is in Putin’s hands, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the daily Bild that Berlin “urgently” demands he receive adequate medical care.
Anastasia Vasilieva, who heads the Alliance of Doctors union that is backed by Navalny, posted a copy of his blood-test results showing what she said were “critical” levels of potassium. “This signifies kidney failure, which can lead at any time to a severe disruption to his heartbeat” including the possibility of heart failure, she said on Twitter.
In a post on his Instagram account Friday, Navalny’s allies reported that a prison official had warned him that a blood test indicated a “serious deterioration” in his health and that he would be force-fed if he didn’t end the protest.
President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered a raft of new sanctions against Russia, including restrictions on buying new sovereign debt, in response to allegations that Moscow was behind a hack on SolarWinds Corp. and interfered with last year’s US election.
Yet the moves were calibrated to punish the Kremlin for past behavior while keeping relations from deteriorating further, especially as tensions grow over a Russian military build-up near Ukraine. Biden has offered to meet Putin later this year, an invitation Russia said it responded to “positively.”
Asked about Navalny’s condition on Saturday, Biden told reporters “It’s totally, totally unfair.”
Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service didn’t respond to requests for comment. Officials have said previously that Navalny has received all necessary medical attention.
Biden pressed Putin in a phone call on Tuesday about the poisoning of the opposition leader, which US intelligence has publicly blamed on Russia’s Federal Security Service. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron also quizzed Putin about Navalny in a March 30 phone call.
Macron called for “clear red lines” in dealing with Russia in an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation broadcast on Sunday. “It’s a failure of our collective credibility vis-à-vis Russia,” he said.