Provocative calls from abroad The Kremlin’s spokesman comments on Navalny’s hunger strike and the planned opposition protests
During his daily press briefing on Monday, April 19, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was bombarded with questions about opposition politician Alexey Navalny. With Navalny’s health worsening amid his ongoing hunger strike, his associates have announced plans to hold countrywide protests in the days to come. What’s more, international governments and cultural figures are calling on the Russian authorities to provide the Kremlin critic with better medical care, and the U.S. even warned of “consequences” if Navalny dies in prison. Nevertheless, Peskov insisted that the Kremlin doesn’t “monitor the health of Russian prisoners” and that isn’t taking the international outcry into account.
The Wall Street Journal: How does the Kremlin feel about the fact that supporters of opposition figure Alexey Navalny have called for mass protest on April 21, the same day that President Vladimir Putin will deliver his annual address to the Federal Assembly?
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know if some [people] in different Russian regions, in different cities, have applied to hold some kind of protest. I don’t have such information. If any unauthorized protests are initiated, they will be illegal automatically and law enforcement officers will respond to them in accordance with Russian law. Perhaps it’s important to remind you here that again, these provocative calls aren’t even coming from the territory of the Russian Federation. They are from certain citizens who live abroad. It probably makes sense to remember this all the time.
The Wall Street Journal: What’s the Kremlin’s reaction to the warning from U.S. officials that “Russia will face consequences” if Navalny dies?
Dmitry Peskov: We in no way accept such statements voiced by representatives of other states. The state of the health of convicts and prisoners on Russian soil cannot and should not be a topic of interest for them.
TV Rain: On Friday, prosecutors asked for the FBK and Navalny’s headquarters to be recognized as extremist organizations. If this happens, then tens of thousands of people who support this organization will face serious prison terms. Does the Kremlin not consider such a measure excessive in relation to people who actually support exposing corruption in Russia?
Dmitry Peskov: I wouldn’t comment on this position of the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General's Office is performing its role. They fight against lawlessness and extremism, including in various manifestations. There’s the position of the Attorney General’s Office, there’s the appeal voiced by prosecutors — this isn’t our role.
TV Rain: Based on Navalny’s test results, he’s in critical condition. And many dozens of movie stars, Nobel laureates, and human rights activists have appealed to Putin. Politicians from other countries are commenting on this separately. Why doesn’t the Kremlin respond to these appeals?
Dmitry Peskov: Listen, we’ve already said that first of all, we don’t monitor the health of Russian prisoners. This absolutely isn’t our role. Honestly, I don’t think that the overwhelming majority of the letter’s signatories, if not all of them, have any idea what or whom it’s about. I also don’t have information about the health of the aforementioned prisoner and in fact, I can’t take your claim about [him being in] some kind of critical condition at face value.
Bloomberg: Why do you think that the representatives of foreign countries can’t express their concerns about the health of prisoners in Russian prisons? Is human health state property?
Dmitry Peskov: This isn’t a concern that we take into account.
Ekho Moskvy: You say that the president doesn’t deal with the issue of prisoners’ health, but the situation has clearly gone beyond [Russia’s] borders, because of it they’re planning various protest actions, and so on. When the president receives such letters, such as those from Russian deputies and foreign cultural figures, how does he react?
Dmitry Peskov: These facts are reported to him, but in this case I can’t talk about some kind of reaction. But of course this can’t be a pretext for some actions by the president. Because in this case the president can’t take any action in relation to monitoring the health of prisoners. There’s the Federal Penitentiary Service, there are certain regulations for this. Of course, in prisons all of these processes are strictly regulated, and everything there is carried out strictly within the framework of the law.
Ekho Moskvy: But the president is still the guarantor of the rights of Russian citizens, no matter if they are prisoners or free. According to the information that the president has, are all of Alexey Navalny’s rights being respected? Including [the right to have] a doctor admitted to see him?
Dmitry Peskov: I don’t know whether the president would verify anything on this topic.
Ekho Moskvy: But is he interested in this specific situation or is he paying it no attention?
Dmitry Peskov: The president is preparing his address to the Federal Assembly. This is an extremely important event for all of us, and for our entire country.
Abridged translation by Eilish Hart