Russian President Vladimir Putin laughs at a reporter who asked if he was a ‘killer’

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks via video call during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

  • When asked by a reporter whether he’s a killer, Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed.
  • President Joe Biden has previously referred to Putin directly as a killer.
  • Many Kremlin dissenters have been killed and several others, including prominent critic Alexei Navalny, have been poisoned.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin laughed in an interview with a reporter who asked him whether he was a killer.

NBC News reporter Keir Simmons asked Putin about accusations that he had ordered the assassinations of dissenters. Alexei Navalny, for example, claims he was poisoned by the Kremlin, which has repeatedly denied any involvement in the incident. Putin once posited that Navalny had poisoned himself, an idea Navalny mocked.

Putin’s opponents have routinely been poisoned. Novichok, the same nerve agent Navalny ingested, had previously been used to poison other Kremlin dissidents. Some of Putin’s critics have been killed.

“When President Trump was told you are a killer, he didn’t deny it. When President Biden was asked whether he believes you are a killer, he said, ‘I do.’ Mr. President, are you a killer?” Simmons asked Putin.

Putin laughed at the question.

“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and at different caliber and fierceness, and none of it surprises me,” Putin said in response.

“I’ve heard dozens of such accusations,” he said, sidestepping the question. “Sentiments in terms of who calls somebody what kind of labels – this is not something I worry about in the least.”

Simmons then read off a list of Russian critics who had been killed and asked Putin whether they were all “coincidences.”

“I don’t want to come across as being rude, but this look like some kind of indigestion, except that it’s verbal indigestion,” Putin said, laughing again at Simmons’ question. “You mentioned many individuals who did suffer and perished at different points in time for various reasons at the hands of different individuals.”

One of the critics Simmons listed “worked in my administration,” Putin said. “I liked him very much. I regret to this day that he is not with us.”

“As far as the others,” he continued, “we’ve found some of the criminals who committed those crimes. Some are in prison. And we’re prepared to continue to work in this mode.”

Former President Donald Trump has previously brushed off allegations characterizing Putin as a killer, and he’s also stayed quiet on Navalny’s claim that the Russian president poisoned him.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has outright called Putin a killer.

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Russia officially outlaws Navalny’s political network a week before Putin’s meeting with Biden

alexei navalny
Alexei Navalny appears in a video published by his team on January 18, 2021.

  • A Moscow court banned Alexei Navalny’s political network by labeling it as extremist.
  • Navalny’s associates are now barred from running for office and could face prison time.
  • The move sends a chilling message to dissidents ahead of the highly anticipated Biden-Putin summit.
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A Moscow court on Wednesday outlawed Alexei Navalny’s political network by dubbing it extremist, in a remarkable escalation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on dissent.

The ruling came just a week before a highly anticipated meeting between the Russian leader and President Joe Biden. It sends a clear message to Biden that his criticism of Russia over the treatment of Navalny and other dissidents won’t deter Putin’s campaign to crush his opponents.

As a result of the ruling and extremism designation, Navalny’s associates are barred from seeking public office – Russia has parliamentary elections in September – and could now be prosecuted and face prison time, per the Associated Press.

The ruling also comes less than a week after Putin signed a law barring members of “extremist” groups from running for office, which critics said was a blatant effort to squash legitimate competition and prevent Navalny’s allies from running in the upcoming elections. Putin signed the law on Friday, which was also Navalny’s 45th birthday.

Navalny’s political network, which primarily focused on investigating and exposing corruption, disbanded in late April in anticipation of the ruling. Around that time, Russia’s financial watchdog Rosfinmonitoring blacklisted the network by labeling it extremist, putting it on a list alongside groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. The lawyer representing the network, Ivan Pavlov, was also arrested in late April.

This is a breaking news story and will continue to be updated.

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Putin is looking abroad for an enemy as he feels the heat at home

Russia Putin Victory Day
Russian President Vladimir Putin at an event on Victory Day, in central Moscow, May 9, 2021.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kiev on Thursday as part of a new push from the Biden administration to show support for Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s recent military action on the border.

Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and emphasized the US’s commitment to the country.

Washington is “actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance,” Blinken said, adding that while most of the Russian troops deployed to the border had been withdrawn, “significant forces remain.”

“We are monitoring the situation very, very closely,” Blinken said alongside Zelenskiy, according to Reuters. “And I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you, partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions.”

Antony Blinken Volodymyr Zelenskiy Ukraine
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, May 6, 2021.

Blinken’s visit to Ukraine is no doubt a calculated response by the Biden administration to Russia’s deployment of nearly 100,000 troops along the shared border last month.

While Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to unwind that deployment a few weeks later, it drew international rebuke and led to weeks of uncertainty and heightened tensions worldwide.

It’s this tension that led President Joe Biden to send the seasoned diplomat to Kiev.

Blinken, who was deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015 and deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017, is no stranger to Putin’s antics. He played an important role in the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution in early 2014.

But putting the secretary of state on the ground also sends a clear message to Putin and the Kremlin.

Many have dismissed Russia’s moves as mere saber-rattling. But after more than two decades of autocratic rule, Putin’s political arsenal is growing thin. Growing domestic opposition led by the unwavering Alexei Navalny, a slumping economy, and a mismanaged coronavirus pandemic response has turned up the heat for Putin and his cabal of loyalists.

Russia military exercise Crimea Black Sea
Russian naval assault forces disembark BK-10M fast assault boats during an exercise in Crimea, April 22, 2021.

As a result, Putin is pulling the levers in his propaganda machine in the hopes of quelling any challenge to his grip on power.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in his State of the Union address before the Russian parliament last month.

Putin took the opportunity to spin up some of his hits, lacing his remarks with anti-Western rhetoric – including thinly veiled threats and ultimatums – in hopes of ginning up Russian distaste for Europe and the US. He warned the West not to cross Moscow’s “red lines.”

“If someone mistakes our good intentions for indifference or weakness … they should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetrical, swift, and harsh,” Putin said, according to a Reuters translation of the speech.

But glaringly absent was any mention of Navalny or the opposition, despite protests and arrests before, during, and after the speech.

According to The New York Times, Russian authorities arrested “dozens of opposition activists” prior to Putin’s speech, including Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, and Lyubov Sobol, a high-ranking member in his political organization.

Alexei Navalny Protest
Russians clash with police during a protest against the jailing of Alexei Navalny, in St. Petersburg, January 23, 2021.

Navalny, who ended a dramatic 24-day hunger strike in late April, is still sitting in a Russian jail, despite a massive outpouring of public support.

Several cities across Russia saw demonstrations for the imprisoned opposition leader during and after Putin’s speech. And while the opposition’s campaign has always enjoyed support from younger, progressive Russians, scattered reports show expanding support for Navalny.

That support will continue to grow as Putin exerts more pressure. The BBC reported that a prosecutor has ordered all of the support offices for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to close.

The report also suggested that the Kremlin may designate FBK a terrorist organization, which would allow Putin to jail supporters and freeze assets with impunity.

The added pressure on Navalny is telling. His poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in August 2020 – almost certainly carried out by Kremlin assassins – failed to kill him and backfired for Putin, putting the Russian leader in hot water internationally while inadvertently fanning the flames at home.

Since then, Putin’s footing is increasingly unstable. And like the good soldier that he is, Putin tends to go on the offensive when he’s backed into a corner.

Ukraine army soldiers Donetsk
Soldiers drill with tanks in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, April 24, 2021.

At present, the majority of Russian military equipment from the April operation is still staged at the border. While the number of troops there has fallen sharply, it would be easy for Russia to deploy them quickly and rumble over the border.

The US has responded to Russia’s display of military strength (and Putin’s propensity to unleash it on the region).

According to the State Department, the US has sent $3.7 billion in support to Ukraine since 2014, alongside another $3 billion in sovereign loan guarantees. This support has included “technical assistance, training, and equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and security services,” such as lethal weaponry, though there are restrictions on its use.

Blinken’s visit is a potent reminder to Putin that the US is heavily invested in Ukraine and will, according to Blinken, “stand strongly” with Ukraine against Russia’s “reckless and aggressive actions.”

J.W. Sotak is a defense and foreign-policy reporter who focuses on the Middle East and Africa. He is a 10-year veteran of the US Army and served as part of a Army Civil Affairs Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. His reports have been published on SOFREP and The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JWSotak.

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A Russian journalist who covered protests in support of the release of Putin critic Alexei Navalny is facing the possibility of detention

Navalny protests
A protester holding a gold-painted toilet brush at a rally against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on January 31, 2021, in Central Moscow, Russia.

  • Daria Komarova, a Russian journalist, faces the possibility of detention for covering “unsanctioned” protests, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
  • She documented protests where demonstrators called for the release of Putin critic Alexei Navalny.
  • Komarova covered the demonstrations while on assignment for an outlet funded by the US Congress.
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A Russian journalist is facing three trials and the possibility of fines or detention after covering protests in support of Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

Navalny, a strong critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a Russian prison for skipping parole meetings. His lawyer said he had missed the meetings because he was in Berlin undergoing treatment for nerve-agent poisoning. Navalny has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning.

Daria Komarova documented the pro-Navalny demonstrations while on assignment for Idel.Realii, a local affiliate of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is congressionally funded.

The Russian government, however, claims Komarova participated in unsanctioned protests last year and in January of this year.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Russian authorities to drop all charges against Komarova.

“Russian authorities continue unjustly prosecuting and legally harassing journalists for their coverage of protests, but the measures unsurprisingly have proved incapable of stopping the protests and opposition movements themselves,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza, according to the CPJ. “Russian authorities should drop all charges against RFE/RL journalist Daria Komarova and allow her and other members of the press to work freely and safely.”

In prison, Navalny went on a 23-day hunger strike, demanding that officials provide him with access to medical treatment. His doctors warned that he could die any minute from lack of treatment.

Navalny’s detention has drawn the ire of prominent politicians, including President Joe Biden, and human rights organizations.

Biden denounced Navalny’s treatment in prison, characterizing it as “totally inappropriate” and “unfair.” In a more aggressive move, Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last month that Russia will face sanctions if Navalny dies in state custody.

If convicted, Komarova might be forced to pay a fine of up to 50,000 rubles, or $651, for each protest she’s charged with attending unlawfully. She might also be punished with 15 days of administrative detention for each protest, according to the CPJ.

“The rationale offered by Russian authorities for violating RFE/RL journalist Daria Komarova’s right to report about local news events is both laughable and frightening,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement published in Idel.Realii. “Journalism is not a crime.”

Insider is covering Daria Komarova’s case as part of The One Free Press Coalition, which raises awareness of the world’s persecuted journalists.

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Photo shows Alexei Navalny looking gaunt after a 23-day hunger strike in Russian prison

Navalny court photo
Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, on April 29, 2021.

  • Alexei Navalny appeared in a Moscow court via video link on Thursday.
  • It was the first time he had appeared in public since he went through a hunger strike.
  • His hunger strike lasted about 23 days. Doctors had warned that he could die from it.
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Alexei Navalny has appeared in public for the first time after going through a hunger strike in Russian prison.

The Russian opposition leader appeared in a Moscow court, via video link from prison, on Thursday.

He could be seen looking gaunt, with a shaved head.

He started a hunger strike from Russian prison on March 31, to protest against his medical conditions in prison, and announced on April 24 that he was “beginning an exit” from the strike. His doctors had warned that he was going to “die any minute” because he had become so weak.

Here’s what he looked like months before his hunger strike, in a video released by his team on January 18:

alexei navalny
Navalny appears in a video published by his team on January 18, 2021.

Navalny appeared in the Moscow court on Thursday to appeal an accusation for defaming a World War Two veteran, Reuters and Sky News reported.

He is currently serving a 2 1/2 sentence in prison for skipping parole meetings. His lawyer said he had missed the meetings because he was in Berlin undergoing treatment for nerve-agent poisoning. Navalny has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning.

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Alexei Navalny has ended his weekslong hunger strike after doctors warned he could die from it

alexei navalny
Alexei Navalny.

  • The Russian critic Alexei Navalny on Friday said he was ending his hunger strike after 23 days.
  • His doctors had been warning that he could die soon.
  • He said he was touched after hearing that other people started fasting in support of him.
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The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has announced that he is ending his weekslong hunger strike.

“I am beginning an exit from the hunger strike,” he said Friday in an Instagram post.

A post shared by Алексей Навальный (@navalny)

Alongside the text to his post, Navalny included a statement signed by several physicians who pleaded that he end the hunger strike. They said his hunger strike had gone on for too long and if he continued it, there could soon be nothing left for them to treat.

“Further starvation can inflict significant harm to the health” of Navalny, the doctors’ statement read. If he continued the hunger strike, they said, he would die.

“We understand that if the hunger strike continues, even for a smallest amount of time, we will unfortunately soon have no one to treat,” the statement continued. “Our principal goal – to maintain our patient’s life and health. Accordingly, we, as attending physicians, are addressing Alexei Navalny and asking that he immediately stop the hunger strike in order to preserve life and health.”

Navalny in his post said he made the decision to quit the hunger strike in part because he heard some of his supporters also started one in solidarity.

“Goodness, I don’t even know these people, but they do such a thing for me,” he wrote.

“I do not want anyone to go through physical suffering because of me,” Navalny added.

Navalny started his hunger strike on March 31 in protest over his medical conditions in prison. His personal doctors have repeatedly said they were denied access to him.

Earlier this month one of his doctors warned he could “die any minute” because he had become so weak, and his lawyer said he had lost sensitivity in his leg and hands. On Thursday, Navalny said he looked like a “skeleton walking, swaying, in its cell.”

Navalny also said Russian prison guards were trying to end his hunger strike by slipping candy in his pockets and frying chicken in front of him.

On Monday, Russia’s prison service described Navalny’s health as “satisfactory,” and the Kremlin dismissed concerns about his health.

Navalny is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a Russian prison for skipping parole meetings. His lawyer said he had missed the meetings because he was in Berlin undergoing treatment for nerve-agent poisoning. Navalny has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning.

US and European Union leaders have expressed concern over Navalny’s health, with the US national security advisor warning of “consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.”

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Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny says he’s a ‘skeleton walking, swaying, in its cell’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s health has been rapidly deteriorating in prison, his allies say.

  • Alexei Navalny says he looks like a “skeleton” amid reports his health is rapidly deteriorating.
  • The imprisoned Kremlin critic has been on a weekslong hunger strike.
  • Navalny, who was poisoned in August, is demanding access to his own doctors.
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Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny joked about the state of his health in an Instagram post on Tuesday, three weeks into a hunger strike over a demand for proper medical care.

“If you saw me now, you would laugh,” Navalny said, describing himself as “a skeleton walking, swaying, in its cell.” The Russian opposition leader has been posting on Instagram from prison via his lawyers.

Navalny’s allies have warned he’s on the verge of death and leaders across the world have condemned the Russian government over his imprisonment. Thousands of Russians have demonstrated against Navalny’s detention and demanded his release.

The anti-corruption campaigner, who is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in August. Navalny has blamed the incident on Putin, whose opponents often wind up dead in violent or suspicious ways.

After receiving treatment in Germany for several months following his poisoning, Navalny returned to Moscow in January and was promptly arrested. He was charged with violating the terms of a suspended sentence for fraud in 2014, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Navalny has dismissed all charges against him as politically motivated.

While in prison, Navalny complained of acute back pain and numbness in one leg and demanded access to his own doctors. Earlier this week, Navalny was transferred to an infirmary at a separate penal colony as his condition worsened. Authorities in Russia continue to prevent Navalny’s doctors from seeing him in prison.

The White House has warned that there will be consequences for Moscow if Navalny dies. But Navalny’s chief of staff is urging the US to do more.

“I prefer that Putin be held accountable for what’s happening now, before Navalny dies. I don’t want my friend and my colleague to die,” Leonid Volkov told CNN.

Meanwhile, UN experts on the Human Rights Council on Wednesday warned that Navalny is in “serious danger” and called for his “urgent medical evacuation from Russia.”

“We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that reportedly does not meet international standards,”the experts said in a statement.

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Russia has detained 2 of Alexei Navalny’s top allies ahead of planned protests over the Putin critic’s health

MOSCOW, RUSSIA FEBRUARY 2, 2021: Opposition activist Alexei Navalny appears at Moscow City Court for a Simonovsky District Court hearing into an application by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service to convert his suspended sentence of three and a half years into a real jail term. Navalny, who had been wanted in Russia since December 2020 for violating probation conditions in the Yves Rocher case, was detained at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow on his return to Russia from Germany on 17 January 2021. On 18 January, Moscow Regions Khimki Court ruled that Navalny be put into custody until 15 February 2021. Moscow City Court Press Service/TASS THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Photo by Moscow City Court Press OfficeTASS via Getty Images)
Alexei Navalny.

Russia detained two of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s closest allies, their lawyers said, ahead of planned protests over his health.

Reuters reported that Lyubov Sobol, who had appeared on Navalny’s YouTube channel; and Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, were detained in Moscow.

Navalny’s team had urged people to protest over his treatment in jail and demand that he get medical treatment.

Navalny is three weeks into a hunger srike over what he says is a lack of access to medical treatment while in jail.

His doctors are demanding to see him, saying the strike puts him at risk of severe heart problems and he could “die any minute.” But several doctors, including his personal physician Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, said they were denied entry into his prison to see him.

Navalny also said that prison authorities threatened to force feed him.

Navalny is serving a 2-1/2-year sentence after being found guilty of missing parole meetings. His lawyer said he missed the them because he was in Germany recovering from being poisoned with the Novichok nerve agent. Navalny has blamed the poisoning on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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US ambassador to Russia returning to Washington after the Kremlin urged him to leave amid heightened tensions

John Sullivan
US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan is returning from Moscow as tensions reach historic heights.

  • The US ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, is returning to Washington amid mounting tensions.
  • Last week, Russia urged Washington to recall the ambassador for consultations.
  • Russia and the US have been engaged in an escalating diplomatic tit-for-tat.
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US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan will return to Washington this week to discuss with administration officials rising tensions with Russia, the US Embassy in Moscow said on Tuesday.

“I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia,” Sullivan said in a statement.

“Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year, and that is another important reason for me to return home for a visit,” Sullivan added. “I will return to Moscow in the coming weeks before any meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin.”

The announcement came after Russia urged Washington to bring Sullivan home as it announced the expulsion of 10 US diplomats in retaliation to new sanctions from the Biden administration that came in concert with the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats.

Russia had previously recalled its ambassador to the US amid anger over Biden referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer.”

Tensions between Moscow and Washington have reached historic heights in recent weeks, on top of several years of deteriorating relations. Russia has amassed roughly 80,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, prompting fears of an invasion. In a recent phone call, Biden urged Putin to reduce tensions with Ukraine while proposing a summit in a third country. Russia has said it’s reviewing the proposal for a summit.

Meanwhile, the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s top critic, has also contributed to the contentious dynamic. Navalny’s allies say his health is rapidly deteriorating and that he could be on the verge of death. The White House has warned the Kremlin there will be consequences if Navalny dies. Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in August. The apparent assassination attempt has been widely blamed on Putin, whose critics often wind up dead in violent or mysterious ways.

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Bernie Sanders says Putin is murdering Navalny ‘in front of the world’ for exposing the Russian president’s ‘vast corruption’

alexei navalny
Alexei Navalny appears in a video published by his team on January 18, 2021.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said Putin is murdering Alexei Navalny in “front of the world.”
  • Navalny’s team has warned his health is rapidly deteriorating to the point where he could die.
  • The Putin critic was transferred to another penal colony infirmary on Monday.
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Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont did not mince words as he backed growing calls for Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to receive proper medical treatment.

“Make no mistake about what is happening here: activist Aleksei Navalny is being murdered in front of the world by Vladimir Putin for the crime of exposing Putin’s vast corruption. Navalny’s doctors must be allowed to see him immediately,” Sanders said in a tweet on Sunday.

The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

The Vermont senator’s criticism of the Russian president came after Navalny’s doctor warned that he could “die at any moment.” The Biden administration has warned Russia there will be consequences if Navalny dies.

Navalny has been on hunger strike for weeks, demanding he receive proper medical care over complaints of back pain and numbness in one of his legs.

The anti-corruption campaigner on Monday was transferred to a prison hospital at a separate penal colony from where he was being held. Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said Navalny’s condition was “satisfactory,” per ABC News.

Meanwhile, Navalny’s allies have warned that his health is rapidly deteriorating, and have pushed against referring to the facility he was transferred to as a “hospital.”

“Please stop writing that Navalny has been transferred to a hospital. It’s not a hospital, it’s just a different penal colony that has the same torturous conditions, same everything, apart from the fact that there are few formally qualified doctors on-site. This changes nothing,” Maria Pevchikh, an investigator at Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation, said in a tweet.

Navalny faced an apparent assassination attempt in August when he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, which can cause lingering health effects. Navalny blamed Putin for the incident. Leaders across the world condemned Putin over the poisoning. The Russian president’s critics have often been killed in violent or mysterious ways.

In September, Navalny was taken to Germany for medical treatment. Upon returning to Moscow in January, he was arrested and accused of violating parole – including while he was in Germany – over a 2014 suspended sentence for fraud. Navalny, who’s mantained all charges against him are politically motivated, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

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