Kremlin Critic Navalny Says He Will End Prison Hunger Strike The fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin began refusing food on March 31 to demand medical care for leg and back pain.

Kremlin Critic Navalny Says He Will End Prison Hunger Strike

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/990133615/990158097" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Alexei Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, says he's ending a hunger strike after 24 days. He began as a protest at the lack of medical attention he was receiving in prison. He made the announcement of the end of the strike in a social media post published by his supporters. NPR's Lucian Kim has been tracking Navalny story for years and is on the line. Lucian, welcome.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I just want to mention, I mean, about a month is about as far as most people can survive without food. The man must be close to death. What was his reason for ending the strike now?

KIM: Well, in this quite extraordinary Instagram post, he says, thanks to pressure from around the world, huge progress has been made in his case. He said, two months ago, the authorities just smirked at his request for medical attention. A month ago, they laughed when he asked for his diagnosis and some medical records. And now he says he's been examined by civilian doctors twice. He also says doctors he trusts appealed to him yesterday to end this hunger strike. Otherwise, in their words, there wouldn't be anyone left for them to treat, so quite dramatic.

A final factor is that other people in Russia also declared hunger strikes in solidarity with Navalny. He says he doesn't want to be responsible for them. He says all of that fills his heart with, quote, "love and gratitude." He says he's still going to insist on getting outside medical attention for a loss of sensation in his arms and legs.

INSKEEP: Lucian, this is remarkable. And I suppose we, for the most part, have Navalny's version of events here. But he's saying that his conditions have improved, which implies that the Russian government really does feel pressure to take care of him. This is someone who says the Russian government has tried to poison him, kill him in the past. And now they seem to have a need to keep him alive.

KIM: Well, the Russian government actually pretends like they have nothing to do with this. The - President Vladimir Putin's spokesman actually has sort of an allergic reaction whenever any journalists bring this up. He keeps on saying that the Kremlin is not monitoring Navalny's health, and he's just like any other prisoner in the Russian prison system. And he's basically said any questions about Navalny's condition should go to the Russian prison service. So this is really one subject that drives the Kremlin up the wall. And they want to ignore Navalny and just have him go away.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, what does that tell us then? Taking all the facts in, what does that tell us about Navalny's ability to influence events in Vladimir Putin's Russia right now?

KIM: Well, it's amazing, Steve. It shows that he can still set the political agenda, even sitting or lying in a prison hospital outside of Moscow. He keeps on posting to social media. He gets his messages out through his supporters and his followers and reaches millions of people. So domestically, he can mobilize thousands and tens of thousands of protesters in the farthest corners of Russia. We saw that again on Wednesday, when people came out in dozens of cities across the country.

But the most amazing thing is that he's now also setting the international agenda. You know, world leaders keep on bringing him up when they talk to Vladimir Putin. And the Biden administration came out and said Russia would face serious consequences if he dies.

INSKEEP: Lucian, thanks for the update.

KIM: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Lucian Kim.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.