EU foreign ministers to meet virtually over Navalny health

Brussels, Belgium: EU foreign ministers are set to meet virtually Monday for talks on the health of dissident Alexei Navalny, as the United States warned Moscow of "consequences" if the Kremlin critic dies in prison and tensions soared over a Russian military build-up on Ukraine's border.

Doctors warned over the weekend that Navalny -- currently on hunger strike in a penal colony east of Moscow -- could die "any minute", with his supporters calling for massive protests across Russia on Wednesday evening, just hours after President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address.

The European Union's top diplomats will discuss the situation on Monday, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement, calling for the Kremlin critic to be granted "immediate access to medical professionals he trusts".

Concerns over Navalny's health have mounted against the background of a spike in tensions between Moscow and the West over a litany of issues, including Russia's troop build-up on Ukraine's border, interference in US elections, and other perceived hostile activities.

On Sunday US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the Kremlin had been warned: "that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies."

The 44-year-old critic was arrested in Russia in January after returning from a near-fatal poisoning he says was carried out by Moscow -- accusations denied by Putin's administration.

Sentenced to two and a half years in prison for embezzlement, he began a hunger strike on March 31 demanding medical treatment for back pain and numbness to his hands and legs.

The EU in October sanctioned six Russian officials over the assassination attempt, Borrell noted, and in February sanctioned another four individuals over Navalny's arrest and sentencing.

France's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Sunday those sanctions could be expanded, saying Russia must be held "responsible" for the dissident's health.

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin, but the Russian ambassador in London, Andrei Kelin, said Navalny "will not be allowed to die in prison."

"But I can say that Mr. Navalny, he behaves like a hooligan," Kelin told the BBC.

Diplomats expelled

EU leaders have also scrambled in the past week to respond to a major military buildup by Russian forces along its border with Ukraine.

Kiev has been battling Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014 and clashes intensified early this year, effectively shredding a ceasefire agreed on last July.

Faced with the largest deployment of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders since 2014, President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested more help from the West.

Moscow said Sunday it would expel a Ukrainian diplomat, prompting an immediate pledge of retaliation from Kiev.

The rising tensions between the former Soviet republics come against the background of a war of words between Moscow and Washington as US President Joe Biden seeks a tougher line against Putin.

The US on Thursday announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what the White House says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack, and other hostile activity.

From poisoning to hunger strike


Russia's most prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny recovered from a near-fatal poisoning attack last year only to again be on the brink of death while on a hunger strike in a Russian prison.

With his team on Sunday calling for mass protests next week aimed at saving his life -- and Washington warning of "consequences" if he dies -- here is a timeline.

Coma

The 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner is hospitalized on August 20, 2020 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.

Novichok

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.

Kremlin denial

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 that Novichok was used.

Putin condemns "unsubstantiated" accusations.

Putin accused

Navalny accuses Putin of being behind his poisoning after he is discharged from hospital on September 22.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov calls his claims "groundless and unacceptable".

Spooks stung

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".

Defiant return

Navalny says he plans to return home despite a threat of jail.

He is detained on January 17 shortly after landing in Moscow.

He urges Russians to "take to the streets".

'Putin's palace'

Navalny releases a video of his investigation into a lavish Black Sea property 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.

The West calls for his immediate release.

Diplomatic crisis

On February 5, 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".

Appeal denied

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.

Penal colony

On February 26 Navalny is sent to a penal colony. Authorities say he is in the Vladimir region some 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of Moscow.

Washington on March 2 sanctions seven senior Russians and says its intelligence concluded that Moscow was behind Navalny's poisoning.

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 in prison.

Hunger strike

On March 31, Navalny announces a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment.

On April 15, Russian authorities ask a court to label his Anti-Corruption Foundation and his network of regional offices as "extremist" organizations, which would see them outlawed.

On April 17, Navalny's doctors say his condition has rapidly deteriorated and he could go into cardiac arrest and "die any minute".

On April 18, his allies call for massive demonstrations on the evening of April 21 -- just hours after Putin gives his state of the nation address.

International outrage grows as France, Germany and the EU call for Navalny to receive urgent medical care.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan says the Kremlin has been warned: "that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies."

The Russian ambassador in London, Andrei Kelin, then says Navalny "will not be allowed to die in prison."

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