WASHINGTON – National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States would retaliate if Russian government critic Alexei Navalny dies during a prison hunger strike.
“We have communicated (to Russia) that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies,” Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
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Sullivan did not specify how retaliation for Navlany’s death might be carried out.
His warning comes as Navalny’s supporters have raised alarm about the high-profile Kremlin critic’s health. A pro-Navalny doctor’s union warned Saturday that he was at risk of kidney failure. A spokesperson for Navalny warned he is at risk of dying soon.
The government critic has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over what he describes as improper treatment by prison guards. Navalny recently claimed in a statement shared on Instagram that prison guards have threatened to force-feed him should he continue.
Asked why President Joe Biden was not more vocal about his condemnation of Navalny’s treatment, the national security adviser said the administration is dealing with the issue “privately” while still in communication “through diplomatic channels direct to the uppermost levels of the Russian government.”
“People usually avoid the word “dying”. But now Alexey is dying. In his condition, it is a matter of days,” Russian opposition press secretary Kira Yarmysh tweeted Saturday.
“Our patient could die at any moment,” Yaroslav Ashikhmin, a physician who supports Navalny, warned in a Facebook post while sharing test results given to him by Navalny’s family.
“Allow a doctor to see my dad,” tweeted Navalny’s daughter, Dasha Navalnaya, a 20-year-old college student at Stanford University.
Navalny allies are set to stage nationwide protests over his health next week, demonstrations they hope will be some of the largest in the country’s history.
“Things are developing too quickly and too badly,” a pro-Navalny group wrote in a statement on Navalny’s website. “We can no longer wait and postpone. An extreme situation demands extreme decisions.”
In 2020, Navalny poisoned, then imprisoned
Last year, Navalny was poisoned with a Russian nerve agent and was given medical treatment in Germany. Upon returning to Russia, Navalny was detained and sentenced to prison.
“It’s totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate, and on the basis of having been poisoned and then on a hunger strike – it’s wrong,” Biden told reporters Saturday.
Navalny has gained international notoriety for frequent sardonic investigative reports that shine a light on corruption within the Russian government, specifically around the inner circle of President Vladimir Putin.
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In March, the Biden administration levied new sanctions against Russia over Navalny’s poisoning.
USA TODAY cannot independently verify the health of Navalny. Russian officials have said Navalny would not die in their custody.
“He will not be allowed to die in prison, but I can say that Mr. Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan, absolutely,” Russian ambassador Andrei Kelin told the BBC.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki has emphasized that the United States would take measures “seen and unseen” to counter Kremlin actions such as election interference and Russian aggression toward Ukraine. Psaki has also said, however, that Biden desires a “stable, predictable” relationship with Moscow.
Sullivan told CNN on Thursday that Biden desires a summit “to discuss all of the issues facing our relationship” after U.S. officials announced another round of sanctions against Russia over a sweeping data breach known as the SolarWinds hack, which intelligence officials have linked to the Kremlin.
Follow Matthew Brown online @mrbrownsir.