Moscow, Russia: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said Thursday he successfully eased out of his hunger strike and has discovered the recipe for being “happy” in prison.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best known domestic critic, is serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony outside Moscow on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.
Russia’s top opposition politician went on a hunger strike at the end of March demanding proper treatment behind bars for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs.
Navalny, who will turn 45 next month, ended the protest on April 23 after he received treatment at a civilian hospital and the West warned Putin of consequences if his critic died.
“Twenty-three days on a hunger strike and 23 days easing out of it in a very strict, conservative manner,” Navalny said in his first post on Instagram in nearly three weeks.
“My willpower surprised me.”
Last Sunday he ate bread — his favorite food — for the first time in 46 days and was happier than an oligarch dining aboard his yacht or a guest of “a Michelin-starred restaurant,” Navalny quipped.
The recipe for being happy in prison, he concluded, was simple.
“Choose what you like very much, then rid yourself of it for some time and then get it back,” Navalny wrote.
“Just remember that this does not apply to people. Love your favorite people always.”
Navalny’s last public appearance was by video link in court during an appeal hearing at the end of April, where he appeared gaunt and said he had started eating a couple of spoonfuls of porridge a day.
Earlier in the day a top aide and the head of Russia’s prison service Alexander Kalashnikov also said Navalny’s health improved.
Navalny has “recovered, more or less”, Kalashnikov told journalists.
“His weight is already up to 82 kilograms (180 pounds), I think,” he added.
The prison chief, who has been sanctioned both by the US and the EU over the treatment of Navalny, said the Kremlin critic was “eating normally”.
The director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Ivan Zhdanov, also said his health was improving.
“His condition is now more or less normal. The recovery process is indeed underway,” Zhdanov said on the Echo of Moscow radio.
Navalny’s allies said that he weighed 93 kilograms (205 pounds) when he arrived in prison in February, but that his went had gone down to 85 kilograms (187 pounds) by the time he launched his hunger strike.
The update on Navalny’s health comes as Russia moves to outlaw his movement.
Next month a court will convene to hear whether to add his network of regional offices and the Anti-Corruption Foundation to a list of “terrorist and extremist” organizations.
The ruling would effectively outlaw Navalny’s political network, putting his supporters and financial backers on par with members of the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.
In another move targeting his supporters, Russia’s lower house of parliament this week approved legislation in a first reading that would ban members of “extremist” organizations from becoming lawmakers.
Since Navalny returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on Putin, most of his top allies have been placed under house arrest or left the country.
Navalny: From poisoning to political outlaw
Russian authorities are now turning their attention from Alexei Navalny to the supporters of the Kremlin’s main opposition leader, branding them “extremists”.
Navalny recovered from a dramatic poisoning attack last year only to be jailed in February.
Here is a timeline:
The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is hospitalized on August 20 in Omsk, Siberia, after losing consciousness during a flight.
Put into a medically induced coma, he is transferred two days later to a Berlin hospital at his family’s request.
Berlin says on September 2 that tests carried out by a German army laboratory yielded “unequivocal evidence” that he was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical weapon.
Two days later the Kremlin rejects claims it was behind the poisoning.
On September 7 Navalny emerges from the coma.
Labs confirm poisoning
French and Swedish laboratories confirm Germany’s findings on Novichok.
Putin condemns “unsubstantiated” accusations.
Navalny accuses Putin of being behind his poisoning after he is discharged from the hospital on September 22.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov calls his claims “groundless and unacceptable”.
Navalny releases a recording in October of him tricking a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent into confessing that he tried to kill him.
The FSB describes the phone call as a “provocation”.
Navalny says he plans to return home despite a threat of jail.
He is detained on January 17 shortly after landing in Moscow.
To coincide with his arrest, Navalny releases a video of his investigation into a lavish Black Sea palace complex he claims is owned by Putin.
It goes viral as Putin denies it is his.
The authorities round up Navalny’s allies.
Protests and prison
In late January tens of thousands of demonstrators demand Navalny’s release.
Police detain thousands.
On February 2 Navalny is handed a nearly three-year prison term.
Three days later the Kremlin expels German, Swedish and Polish diplomats for supporting Navalny.
The three countries expel Russian diplomats in return.
Rights court weighs in
The European Court of Human Rights orders Russia to release Navalny “with immediate effect” on February 17. Russia accuses it of “interference”.
Three days later a Moscow court dismisses Navalny’s appeal but reduces the sentence to two-and-a-half years.
Separately he is convicted of defamation and fined 850,000 rubles (around 9,500 euros).
The EU on February 22 sanctions four senior Russian officials.
On February 26 Navalny is sent to a penal colony in the Vladimir region about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Moscow.
Five days later Washington sanctions seven senior Russians.
Navalny says on March 15 he is locked up in a “real concentration camp” and accuses Russian authorities of torture by depriving him of sleep.
On March 31 Navalny announces a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment.
After more than two weeks, his doctors say his condition has rapidly deteriorated and he could “die any minute” of cardiac arrest.
On April 23 Navalny says on Instagram he is halting the strike and thanks to his supporters.
In late April Russian authorities add Navalny’s network of regional offices to the country’s database of terrorists and extremist organizations.
Prosecutors have also requested that Navalny’s network and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) be designated “extremist” organizations. Judges postponed the main hearing in the case on Monday until June 9.