Navalny "could die at any moment"

(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

It’s been two and a half months since Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was sent to prison for two and a half years by a kangaroo court for missing some meetings with his parole officer. (Navalny’s excuse for being tardy was that he spent months in a German hospital, with significant periods being in a medical coma after Vladimir Putin had him poisoned.) While behind bars, Navalny complained of increasing pains in his back and lower legs, but his personal physicians have been barred from seeing him. In protest of this treatment, Navalny went on a hunger strike more than two weeks ago. His jailors have shown no signs of relenting, however, and now it’s being reported that his latest round of blood tests indicate that Navalny could literally die at any moment without proper treatment. (Associated Press)

A doctor for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, says his health is deteriorating rapidly and the 44-year-old Kremlin critic could be on the verge of death.

Physician Yaroslav Ashikhmin said Saturday that test results he received from Navalny’s family show him with sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidneys.

“Our patient could die at any moment,” he said in a Facebook post.

President Joe Biden was asked to weigh in on the subject of Navalny. He said the dissident’s current situation is “totally, totally unfair and totally inappropriate.” It doesn’t sound like Putin is taking Biden’s criticism to heart, however. Russia’s state penitentiary service released a statement in response saying that Navalny is “receiving all the medical help he needs.”

Judging by his most recent bloodwork, it certainly doesn’t sound like he’s getting all of the medical attention he requires. If the Russians were really interested in returning Navalny to better health, they could surely strap him to a gurney and hook an IV up to his arm to provide him with some nutrients, right? It’s not as if the Russians are going to respect the individual medical wishes and freedoms of one of Putin’s chief critics anyway.

I find myself wondering how far Navalny is willing to push this. Is he really so dedicated to this proposition that he would actually die and make a martyr of himself in his ongoing war against Putin’s corrupt administration? Given his track record, I wouldn’t put it past him, but his loss would leave a very large hole in the country’s anti-corruption campaign. Then again, Navalny has millions of followers. Perhaps someone is already waiting in the wings to take his place if he falls.

Would Vladimir Putin care one way or the other if Navalny dies behind bars? The more jaded part of me leans toward thinking that it would do little more than save the Kremlin the trouble of making sure that the famous Putin critic has “an accident” before he finishes his sentence. And that’s very likely not some paranoid conspiracy theory. Let’s face it. The former KGB strongman decided that he’d had enough of Navalny stirring up trouble and despite his ongoing protestations of innocence, he ordered the assassination attempt. Nobody else would have dared to do it without getting an okay from Putin. They only barely failed in that attempt, but there’s nothing stopping the Kremlin from finishing the job now. All Putin will do is continue to deny any involvement, reject any calls for an investigation and move on with his other plans. He knows that the west isn’t going to go to war with Russia over the life of Navalny and he’ll mostly just shrug off any new sanctions that are imposed.

I’d love to be able to envision a rosier scenario here, but it’s difficult to come up with one. The clock may be ticking for Alexei Navalny, though I doubt his anti-corruption movement will die even if he’s no longer among the living.