Mass pro-Navalny protests planned as Putin addresses Russia

A team of medics are denied access to a penal colony hospital where the Russian opposition figure is being treated. Navalny, 44, launched a hunger strike on March 31 and his medical team has warned that his health is failing rapidly.

Vladimir Putin delivers a state of the nation address on Wednesday as Russia deals with a crisis in ties with the West and faces calls for mass protests in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

The longtime Russian leader’s annual speech to lawmakers and regional governors sets the political agenda and last year saw Putin lay out a plan that eventually gave him the power to stay in office until 2036.

With parliamentary elections due in September, Putin will be looking to shore up his public support and is likely to remain defiant with the West, as well as announcing a series of measures to boost Russia’s pandemic-hit economy.

Navalny’s team has called for protests from 7:00 pm (0400 GMT) in cities across Russia to support the anti-corruption campaigner, who launched a hunger strike three weeks ago to protest his lack of medical treatment in prison.

– Fears for Navalny’s life –

He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years on old fraud charges his supporters say were politically motivated and has been serving time in a penal colony about 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow.

The European Union and the United States have imposed sanctions on Russia over Navalny’s poisoning, and on Monday threatened Moscow with further penalties in the event of his death.

But he is almost certain to touch on other sources of contention with the West, especially over Ukraine.

Ties with the West have also been hit by a series of spy scandals.

– Biden summit offer –

As tensions peaked last week, US President Joe Biden spoke to Putin by phone, inviting him to hold a summit in a third country. The Kremlin has said it is considering the offer.

He has said this year’s address will focus on efforts to relaunch the Russian economy after the coronavirus pandemic and to turn around a decline in Russians’ spending power.

Concrete economic improvements will be crucial for Putin going into September’s elections. 


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