Navalny Declares a Hunger Strike in Prison Over Medical Care

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, declared a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest over what he said was prison officials’ failure to provide him with proper medical care for severe pain in his back and his right leg.

In a handwritten letter to the prison warden, Mr. Navalny, the most vocal critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, complained that despite his worsening condition, he has not been allowed to see a doctor of his choice or receive necessary medication.

Mr. Navalny, who suffered a near-fatal poisoning in August, wrote in the letter, posted online by his supporters, that he needed “to see a doctor very badly” and that he would not end his hunger strike “before it happens.” The prison staff, he added, had also ordered a campaign of psychological harassment against him, including sleep deprivation.

Mr. Navalny had said in an earlier statement that prison doctors had provided only ibuprofen pills to treat the pain, describing the prison as “a real concentration camp 60 miles away from Moscow.”

said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr. Navalny has received all of the medical help he needs and that guards were required to check that inmates were present in their beds.

Mr. Navalny collapsed into a coma on an airplane flight last August and was medically evacuated from Russia to Berlin.

After extensive tests there, both the German and French governments, and international chemical weapons specialists, confirmed that he had been poisoned with a Soviet-designed military nerve agent, Novichok. Mr. Navalny said the attempt on his life was ordered by the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin has denied any state role in the poisoning, arguing that if the Russian state had wanted to kill him, it would have succeeded.

On Tuesday, Mr. Putin discussed Mr. Navalny’s situation with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who demanded that his rights be respected. European Union officials have called for Mr. Navalny’s immediate release.

protest demonstrations demanding his release in January, his team announced more protests this spring.

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Navalny’s Health Is Deteriorating in Prison, His Lawyers Say

MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, the imprisoned opposition leader who returned to Russia this year despite an earlier attempt on his life, is in deteriorating health with unexplained ailments and has received substandard medical care, his lawyers said on Thursday.

Prison doctors moved Mr. Navalny, 44, to a hospital for tests on Wednesday but offered no explanation for his complaints of severe back pain and numbness in one leg, and then returned him to the penal colony east of Moscow, said his lawyer, Olga Mikhailova.

“His health is extremely unfavorable, and every day gets worse,” she said in an interview after meeting Mr. Navalny in prison on Thursday. His right leg has numbed to the point he cannot put weight on it, she said. “We are afraid for his life and his health.”

Mr. Navalny collapsed into a coma on an airplane flight last August and was medically evacuated from Russia to Berlin. After extensive tests there, both the German and French governments, and international chemical weapons specialists, confirmed that he had been poisoned with a Soviet-designed military nerve agent, Novichok.

reported.

Prison doctors are not qualified to treat him, Ms. Mikhailova said, and she has filed appeals to move him to Moscow to be examined by a specialist. “His condition is worsening, not improving, with the treatment he is getting in prison,” she added.

His condition has been exacerbated by sleep deprivation, she said, with guards awakening him hourly, ostensibly to confirm his presence in the prison barracks, as he is classified as a flight risk.

After his poisoning, Mr. Navalny and the open-source investigative group Bellingcat studied phone records of Russian security service agents and other clues to reconstruct what they called an attempted assassination.

Mr. Navalny said the poison, which can be lethal to the touch, had been applied to the inside of a pair of his underpants. It was the same class of nerve agent that sickened several people in England and killed one of them in 2018, in what western intelligence agencies said was a failed attempt to kill Sergei V. Skripal, a former Russian spy.

In Germany, Mr. Navalny underwent months or rehabilitation and in interviews described harrowing neurological symptoms including disorientation and trouble walking. By late last year he said he had seemed to fully recover.

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Russia Erupts in Fury Over Biden’s Calling Putin a Killer

MOSCOW — Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States and unleashed a storm of derision aimed at President Biden after he said in a television interview that he thought President Vladimir V. Putin was a killer.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday that it had summoned its envoy in Washington, Anatoly I. Antonov, to Moscow “in order to analyze what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States.”

“We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, said in a statement.

Ms. Zakharova did not specify whether a specific event had prompted the decision to recall Mr. Antonov, but the rare move came as Russian officials reacted with fury to an interview with Mr. Biden aired by ABC News. In the interview, when asked whether he thought Mr. Putin was a “killer,” Mr. Biden responded: “Mmm hmm, I do.”

post on Facebook on Thursday in reference to Mr. Biden’s interview. “Any expectations for the new U.S. administration’s new policy toward Russia have been written off by this boorish statement.”

Mr. Kosachev warned that Russia would respond further, without specifying how, to Mr. Biden’s comments “if explanations and apologies do not follow from the American side.”

quipping in December that if Russian agents had wanted to kill the opposition leader, “They would have probably finished the job.”

The Russian government has also been linked to attacks on foreign soil, including the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018 and the shooting death of a former commander of Chechen separatists in Berlin the following year.

Mr. Putin signed a law in 2006 legalizing targeted killings abroad — legislation that Russian lawmakers said at the time was inspired by American and Israeli conduct.

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Navalny Greets Supporters From Prison: ‘Our Friendly Concentration Camp.’

Even profanity was prohibited, Mr. Navalny wrote. Shockingly for a Russian prison, “this ban is strictly followed.”

The prison, referred to by its Russian initials IK2, has long been known for strict enforcement of rules. Lawyers and former inmates have described a separate, harsher punishment facility within its walls where inmates are not allowed to mingle or even talk among themselves.

The site is typical for Russia’s colony-type prisons that evolved, with a few improvements, from the gulag camps established in the 1930s. Inmates live collectively in groups of several dozen called brigades in low-slung, two-story buildings surrounded by walls and barbed wire.

Discipline is enforced by prisoners in cahoots with the warden, according to former inmates, an arrangement that will allow the prison administration to strictly control Mr. Navalny’s life at all times. Prisoners spend hours standing with their hands clasped behind their backs, looking at their feet, forbidden from making eye contact with the guards, one former inmate, the nationalist politician Dmitri Dyomushkin, told a Moscow radio station recently.

Mr. Navalny, in Monday’s post, said he remained classified as a flight risk, meaning that he was woken up every hour at night by a guard with a camera reporting on his condition.

The constant surveillance, Mr. Navalny wrote, reminded him of a dystopian novel: “I think that someone up high read Orwell’s ‘1984’ and said, ‘Oh, awesome. Let’s do that. Education through dehumanization.’”

But as he has done repeatedly in recent months, Mr. Navalny still sought to radiate optimism. He has used his imprisonment to try to show Russians that they need not fear Mr. Putin, as long as they believe that, sooner or later, their side will prevail.

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Russia Says It Is Slowing Access to Twitter

MOSCOW — The Russian government said on Wednesday that it was slowing access to Twitter, accusing the social network of failing to remove illegal content and signaling that the Kremlin is escalating its offensive against American internet companies that have long provided a haven for freedom of expression.

Russia’s telecommunications regulator said it was reducing the speed at which Twitter loaded for internet users in Russia, though it was not immediately clear how noticeable the move would be. The regulator, Roskomnadzor, accused Twitter of failing for years to remove posts about illegal drug use or child pornography or messages “pushing minors toward suicide.”

“With the aim of protecting Russian citizens and forcing the internet service to follow the law on the territory of the Russian Federation, centralized reactive measures have been taken against Twitter starting March 10, 2021 — specifically, the initial throttling of the service’s speeds, in accordance with the regulations,” the regulator said in a statement.

“If the internet service Twitter continues to ignore the demands of the law, measures against it will continue in accordance with the regulations, up to and including blocking it,” it added.

he has allowed the internet to remain essentially free.

Twitter — and to a much greater extent, Facebook’s Instagram and Google’s YouTube — have given Russians ways to speak, report and organize openly even though the Kremlin controls the television airwaves.

Those social networks, along with Chinese-owned TikTok, played a pivotal role in the anti-Kremlin protests that accompanied the return and imprisonment of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny this year. Mr. Navalny has some 2.5 million Twitter followers, and his investigation published in January into a purported secret palace of Mr. Putin was viewed more than 100 million times on YouTube.

Russian officials claim that Silicon Valley companies discriminate against Russians by blocking some pro-Kremlin accounts while handing a megaphone to the Kremlin’s critics. They have also said that social networks have refused to remove content drawing children into the unauthorized protests in support of Mr. Navalny.

In recent weeks, the Kremlin has led an intensifying drumbeat criticizing American internet companies, painting them as corrupting foreign forces.

Mr. Putin said this month.

The internet, Mr. Putin said, must respect “the moral laws of the society in which we live — otherwise, this society will be destroyed from the inside.”

Twitter has a small user base in Russia, though it is popular among journalists, politicians and opposition activists. A report last year estimated the service had 690,000 active users in Russia, meaning that any public backlash over the move is likely to be far smaller than if the Kremlin imposed similar limits for Instagram or YouTube.

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