MOSCOW: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Friday he was ending a 24-day hunger strike he launched to demand medical treatment behind bars after allies said his life was in danger.
The announcement came after Navalny’s personal doctors said on Thursday that he had received treatment at a civilian hospital and urged him to stop his protest.
“Taking into account progress and all circumstances, I am beginning to end my hunger strike,” said President Vladimir Putin’s best-known critic in an Instagram post.
He said the process would take 24 days, writing: “They say it is even more difficult” than the hunger strike.
Navalny’s protest in prison increased the risk of an impasse between Putin and Western leaders, who said Moscow would face repercussions if Russia’s most prominent opposition leader died in prison.
The 44-year-old trained lawyer announced the hunger strike in his penal colony on March 31, demanding to see an independent doctor for back pain and numbness in his arms and legs.
Navalny was put behind bars in February for more than two years on charges of embezzlement – which he says are politically motivated – just weeks after returning to Moscow from Germany, where he was recovering from an almost fatal poisoning attack.
Navalny blames Russian authorities for the attack with nervous agent Novichok – an allegation the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
His allies demanded that he have access to adequate treatment and warned in mid-April that he could suffer cardiac arrest “at any time”, asking the authorities to transfer him to intensive care.
Medical professionals, including Navalny’s private doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, made several attempts earlier this month to visit him, but were either detained or refused.
Navalny said he was guided in his decision by the recommendation of his doctors, whom he “fully trusts”, and by the fact that some of his supporters also went on a hunger strike in solidarity.
“Friends, my heart is filled with love and gratitude for you, but I don’t want anyone to suffer because of me,” he said.
He added that he was seen twice by civilian doctors and is undergoing medical examinations, but stressed that he still wants to see an independent doctor, pointing to numbness in his limbs.
Navalny’s doctors, who said they had examined his medical results at the hospital, recommended that he be transferred to a “modern” hospital in Moscow for further tests and to provide a complete diagnosis.
“What we saw can’t just be called bad or unprofessional – it’s monstrous,” wrote Dr. Vasilyeva on Twitter on Friday.
Leading ally Lyubov Sobol, who went on a hunger strike in 2019 after she and several other opposition politicians were prevented from running for local elections, said on Friday that Navalny will have “very difficult days” ahead when he returns to eat. .