WASHINGTON – In another stern warning, the Biden administration said Monday the welfare of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is the responsibility of the Russian government and that Russia would be held accountable if he dies.
The threat came amid reports that Navalny, who is in his third week of a hunger strike, had been moved to a prison hospital because of rapidly declining health and a statement from his doctor that the government opposition leader could be near death.
“What happens to Mr. Navalny in the custody of the Russian government is the responsibility of the Russian government,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
If Navalny dies, “there will be consequences to the Russian government,” she said.
The threat marked the second day in a row the administration put Russia on notice that it would be held accountable for Navalny’s welfare.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday the United States would retaliate if Navalny dies. "We have communicated (to Russia) that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies," Sullivan said on CNN's "State of the Union.”
On Monday, Sullivan spoke by phone with Nikolay Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, on a number of issues, including the prospect of a presidential summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The White House did not say whether they discussed Navalny’s health during the call.
Russia says Navalny transferred to hospital
Navalny, Putin’s fiercest opponent, Navalny was poisoned last August with a Russian nerve agent and was given medical treatment in Germany. Russia denied it was behind the attack, but intelligence officials determined with “high confidence” that one of Russia’s leading intelligence agencies, the Federal Security Service, used the nerve agent Novichok to poison Navalny.
Navalny was detained upon returning to Russia in January and was later sentenced to prison. He has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over what he describes as improper treatment by prison guards. The government critic recently claimed in a statement shared on Instagram that prison guards have threatened to force-feed him.
Reports about Navalny’s rapidly declining health elicited international outrage and calls urging Russian authorities to provide the politician with adequate medical help. European Union foreign ministers were assessing the bloc’s strategy toward Russia on Monday in the wake of news about his health.
The Russian state penitentiary service, FSIN, also said Monday that Navalny would be transferred from a penal colony just east of Moscow to a hospital for convicts in a prison in Vladimir, a city 110 miles from the capital. According to the statement, Navalny’s condition is deemed “satisfactory.”
The agency said the 44-year-old Kremlin critic had agreed to take vitamin therapy. But Navalny’s physician, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said Saturday that test results provided by the family show he has sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidneys.
“Our patient could die at any moment,” he said in a Facebook post.
In Washington, the White House declined Monday to elaborate on what actions it might take against Russia if Navalny dies.
“We’re not going to telegraph our punches,” Psaki said, adding that the administration continues to push for his release and for him to be treated humanely.
The U.S. already has imposed sanctions against Russia in response to Navalny’s poisoning and detention.
Last month, the administration announced sanctions against seven senior members of the Russian government and added 14 entities to the Department of Commerce's blacklist, mirroring sanctions imposed earlier by the European Union and the United Kingdom. The sanctions prevent the top figures allied with Putin from accessing financial and property assets in the U.S.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.
Contributing: Matthew Brown and The Associated Press
'Aiding and abetting Putin': Biden must sanction 'the cronies and wallets of Putin,' says key ally of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House says Russia to be held accountable if Alexei Navalny dies