'They are Killing Him' -- Alexei Navalny's Condition Appears Grave

Plus: Protests planned -- New Russiagate link -- Huge Clubhouse valuation

Today is Day 19 of Alexei Navalny's hunger strike. Amid warnings that his death could be imminent, his supporters are calling for a fresh round of protests on April 21.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny's right-hand man, announced on Facebook, "There is no time -- it's time to act. It's no longer just about Navalny's freedom, but his life. Right now, they are killing him in the prison colony, and we can't wait any longer. Come out for the protest this Wednesday, April 21, at 7:00 pm local time." The protests are planned for the same day as an annual address by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in front of the Federal Assembly, a kind of equivalent to the State of the Union address. 

The protests set up a high-stakes confrontation in an increasingly desperate situation for the Russian opposition. Navalny's supporters had planned protests in September, coinciding with Russia's parliamentary elections. However, his group, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, moved up the date of protests because of Navalny's sharply worsening health and Russian prosecutors' April 16 announcement declaring the group an "extremist organization." This declaration would put the group in the same category as ISIS and neo-Nazi groups. It would force the shuttering of his organization and open up his team to potential prosecution.

Navalny has been on hunger strike, protesting a lack of independent medical care. He reports that prison authorities have been refusing to treat him adequately for severe back and leg pain. Such doctors have been refused entry to the prison.

The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service announced on April 19 that he had been moved to a hospital where he would be examined by a doctor daily, his condition was "satisfactory," and he had agreed to "vitamin therapy." However, his team wrote on Twitter that the announcement was for "loud headlines" -- they said he was moved into another prison colony that had a hospital elsewhere on its grounds and still wasn't allowed to see a doctor. Both the prison and its hospital have a history of torturing and beating inmates.

On April 16, Alexandra Zakharova, a representative of the Doctors' Alliance, a group of activist doctors, warned that his health was seriously deteriorating. "We have seen the tests, and they are very, very, bad," she told Reuters, noting that she obtained the tests from Navalny's lawyers and no one from the group had been able to examine him themselves. "His potassium is high and he has other high readings which indicate that his kidneys may soon fail. This would lead to severe pathology and cardiac arrest may occur."

Navalny has been on a hunger strike with nothing but water. The British medical journal The Lancet warned that someone on such a hunger strike can die in as little as three weeks if they become ill, as Navalny reportedly is.

Navalny reported that a female colonel had threatened him with force-feeding in a straitjacket if he didn't give up his hunger strike. His report was posted on his Instagram page April 16, which his backers use to post updates from him based on information from his lawyers who visit him in prison. The World Medical Association has called force-feeding a form of "inhuman and degrading treatment." The United Nations has in the past warned that force-feeding could constitute a violation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Russia is a party to. The Lancet has warned that refeeding someone too quickly on hunger strike can cause "life-threatening clinical and biochemical abnormalities."

Russia's Ambassador to the United Kingdom told the BBC that Navalny "will not be allowed to die in prison" but said his activities in jail were all "to attract attention for him." U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN on April 18 that the Biden Administration had told Russia there will be "consequences" if Navalny dies.

It's difficult to see how Navalny survives in Russia. The United States and European powers could potentially try to negotiate for him to be medivaced to the European Union, but that would mean Navalny leaving Russia and likely not being allowed back in. He has been clear that he wants to stay in Russia. He has hinted at his death. In a letter to independent Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats from jail, he wrote: 

Zhenya, everything is alright. It's a historical process. Russia is going through it, and we are coming along together. We’ll make it (probably). I am all right, and I have no regrets. And you shouldn’t, either, and shouldn’t worry. Everything will be okay. And, even if it isn’t, we’ll have the consolation of having lived honest lives. Hugs! 

The anti-corruption campaigner was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020 -- likely directed from inside the Kremlin -- and medivaced to Germany. He recovered for five months in Berlin and was promptly jailed upon returning to Russia in January, knowing that he would almost certainly face imprisonment.

Inside the prison, the situation is ever-more awful as the world watches and the Russian government shows no signs of budging. Navalny's daughter, Dasha, tweeted in English, "Allow a doctor to see my dad."

The Biden Administration Connects a Dot on Russiagate that Mueller Did Not

On April 15, the Biden Administration announced a fresh round of economic sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. In its press release, the Biden Administration described how Russian intelligence played a deeper role in the 2016 U.S. election than had previously been acknowledged.

The Treasury Department said that Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate of 2016 Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, "provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy" during the 2016 U.S. election. 

The Treasury Department's revelation of Trump campaign and polling data ultimately being passed to Russian intelligence is new. The Senate Intelligence Committee and Mueller Report said that Manafort shared campaign and polling data with Kilimnik, but neither report definitively said what Kilimnik did with the data.

Kilimnik, whom the U.S. government has labeled a Russian intelligence officer, was hit with sanctions by the Biden Administration. 

The Treasury Department further stated, "Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election." That was a key talking point of congressional Republicans during the 2019 Trump-Ukraine impeachment. Former Trump official Fiona Hill, who testified in the impeachment inquiry, called it a "fictional narrative" that served Russian interests.

Manafort was convicted of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts, and sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison. He was pardoned by President Trump in December.

A judge in New York State ruled in February that Manafort could not be prosecuted on state charges due to the double jeopardy rule. Manafort, 71, is unlikely to face justice again.  

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