Russian prison service decides to transfer hunger-striking Navalny to hospital, EU warns Russia

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Russia’s prison authority said on Monday it had decided to transfer hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to a hospital for prisoners.

The prison service said the 44-year-old opposition politician’s health was in a satisfactory condition and that he was being examined by a doctor on a daily basis.

Earlier, thethe European Union’s top diplomat said on Monday that Russia must allow Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who his allies say is in a critical health condition in prison, to have access to proper medical care, as EU foreign ministers pressed for his release.

Navalny, 44, a prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike at the end of March in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.

“We make the Russian authorities responsible for the health situation of Mr Navalny,” Josep Borrell said before a video conference of the EU’s 27 foreign ministers, who on Sunday released a joint statement warning of the risks to Navalny’s life.

Leading EU lawmakers also spoke out.

“Act now, or the blood of Mr Navalny will forever be on your hands,” said Manfred Weber, who lead’s the European Parliament’s biggest grouping, the European People’s Party.

Navalny, who the West says has been wrongly jailed and should be freed, returned to Russia in January after recovering from what German doctors say was a nerve agent poisoning.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the EU, which has already imposed sanctions on Russians it deems responsible for Navalny’s poisoning, said the EU should be ready with a special medical team.

Two allies of Navalny, Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov, wrote to the EU ministers to urge them to discuss Navalny’s health at their next meeting on Monday, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

Borrell said ministers had received it.

The letter raised similar health concerns to those voiced on Tuesday by Navalny’s wife Yulia, who said after visiting him in prison that he was having difficulty speaking and had lost more weight.

“Alexei’s health is steadily deteriorating,” the letter said, citing an unofficial copy of test results that showed spinal problems.

Navalny was jailed in February for two-and-a-half years for charges of parole violations that he called politically motivated. Russia has said it has yet to see evidence he was poisoned.

Staff at the Russian prison said they have offered Navalny proper treatment, but that he refused it. 

Photo: Supporters of detained Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny stage a demonstration organized by the group “Art of Rebel” outside Downing Street in London, Britain. EPA-EFE/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA