The United States has again urged Russia to allow independent doctors to see Aleksei Navalny as the jailed Russian opposition politician ends the third week of a hunger strike amid concerns that his health is failing badly.
"We call on them to allow for access to necessary and independent medical care immediately," State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on April 20, after a team of doctors seeking to examine Navalny was again turned away from the prison where he is being treated at an infirmary.
Price added that Russian authorities were responsible for his deteriorating health and said the United States is "certainly looking and will not hesitate to use additional policy tools, should that be in our interest and in the interest of human rights in Russia, in the context of Mr. Navalny."
Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny's personal doctor and the head of the Alliance of Doctors union, said a group of physicians came to the penitentiary and requested to see the Kremlin critic, only to wait several hours without success.
In an Instagram post, Navalny described himself as now looking like a "skeleton staggering around his cell," and joked: "They can use me to scare children who refuse to eat: ‘Masha, if you don’t eat porridge, you will be like that man with big ears, shaven head and hollow eyes’.”
President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic wrote that he was glad to hear from his lawyer about broad sympathy and support for him in and outside Russia.
The lawyers said he had become "very weak" and that "it's hard for him to speak and sit up."
Navalny's health has rapidly deteriorated in recent days and he could suffer cardiac arrest "any minute," Vasilyeva and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, said in a letter to Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service last week as they pleaded for access to Navalny.
Navalny's colleagues and supporters have harshly criticized his transfer to the prison hospital, saying that the correctional colony he was moved to is in fact infamous for its brutal treatment of inmates. His doctors have complained that prison hospitals don't have the proper staff or adequate facilities to treat his ailments.
The severity of the situation prompted Navalny's team to call for nationwide protests on April 21 that Russian authorities have looked to stifle in recent days by rounding up Navalny's supporters and members of his teams across Russia, while authorities issued thinly veiled warnings over unsanctioned rallies.
Vasilyeva and two other doctors -- Yaroslav Ashikhmin and Aleksei Erlikh, spent more than seven hours outside the prison checkpoint waiting to meet the prison warden to get his permission to enter the penitentiary.
A duty officer at the checkpoint kept saying that they would meet with the warden, or one of his deputies, at some point, but in the end, Vasilyeva and her team were informed that the time for meeting with prison officials had ended and there was no way for them to enter the facility.
"We were not allowed to get in. We waited since 9 a.m. They pulled our legs, giving us empty promises, meanwhile, our doctors cancelled their appointments [to come here]. Extreme disrespect an intimidation of doctors. Obvious threat to Aleksei [Navalny's] life and health," Vasilyeva wrote on Twitter.
Navalny was moved from his prison to a hospital in another correctional facility over the weekend, with his condition listed as "satisfactory" by prison authorities, the same designation they gave him days before he launched his hunger strike on March 31 to protest the lack of treatment he was getting over acute back and leg ailments.
Since then, his wife has warned that his weight was down to 76 kilograms, 17 less than when he entered the notorious Correctional Colony No. 2, about 100 kilometers from Moscow.
Lawyer Olga Mikhailova and one of her colleagues were able to get access to Navalny on April 20, and said Navalny had agreed to a glucose drip that he was given on April 18.
However, they also noted that nurses had failed multiple times to find his vein, citing that as evidence that the prison infirmary was not up to providing proper medical care.
"Medical care in this particular case is not being given," Mikhailova said.
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.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 20 expressed concerns over the health of the jailed opposition politician.
"The German government, together with others, is pressing for him to receive adequate medical treatment," Merkel told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning in Siberia in August last year with what was defined by European labs as a 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.
As Navalny's supporters tried to build support for the rallies, security officials across the country sprung into action in an attempt to scare off protesters.
In a thinly veiled warning, Moscow authorities, who have broken up previous rallies and arrested thousands of people, said on April 20 that the protests were "unauthorized."
Meanwhile, police in the city of Kurgan in Russia's Urals Federal District on April 20 detained a coordinator of Navalny's team in the city, Aleksei Shvarts, on a charge of repeatedly violating the law on organizing public events such as the April 21 rallies.
The day before, two members of Navalny's team in the southern city of Krasnodar, Alipat Sultanbegova and Maryam Dadasheva, were detained for announcing the April 21 rally.
A member of Navalny's team, Anton Overin, in the Siberian city of Ulan-Ude, disappeared on April 20 after he visited the city administration, where he planned to ask permission to hold a pro-Navalny rally on April 21. His colleagues suspect he was detained by law enforcement.
In the town of Berezniki in the Perm region, police visited local activist Artyom Faizullin on April 20 to question him regarding the pro-Navalny rally scheduled for April 21, but Faizullin refused to answer any questions, citing Article 51 of the constitution. The article says a person cannot be compelled to testify against themselves.