A demonstrator holds a sign reading
A demonstrator holds a sign reading "Free Kremlin's Prisoners" during a demonstration on January 31, 2021, against the detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Photo: Fabian Sommer/dpa

Russian police have cracked down on supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny ahead of nationwide protests set for Wednesday.

Employees of his anti-corruption foundation in the Siberian city of Kurgan published a video on social networks on Tuesday showing their coordinator, Alexei Schwarz, being taken into custody.

The video shows two men in civilian clothing dragging Schwarz out of a building and then forcing him into a waiting car as his girlfriend looks on.

Navalny’s supporters also reported arrests in St Petersburg, Tver and Volgograd.

Protests are planned in more than 100 Russian cities and towns on Wednesday to demand authorities take action to improve the 44-year-old’s ailing health.

The opposition politician took to Instagram on Tuesday to thank supporters around the world for their expressions of solidarity.

Navalny, who narrowly survived an assassination attempt last year, has complained of severe back pain, paralysis in his arms and legs and a lack of medical care. Almost three weeks ago, he went on hunger strike in an attempt to obtain treatment from an independent doctor.

His team has sounded the alarm, saying at the weekend his health has taken a turn for the worse and that he may have only “days” to live.

Russia’s federal penitentiary authority said on Monday that Navalny’s health was “satisfactory,” but that he had been moved to a prison hospital for monitoring.

His personal doctor complained that she had again waited in vain for hours outside the prison camp on Tuesday without being let in.

At the weekend, his team had issued an urgent warning of impending cardiac arrest due to critical potassium levels in his blood. His lawyer criticized the fact that Navalny was transferred to the infirmary of another camp but was only receiving glucose infusions.

Navalny described himself as now looking like a “skeleton” on Instagram and said he could only laugh about his potassium levels.

“After Novichok, potassium is not that bad,” he said.

After surviving a Novichok nerve agent attack and receiving treatment in Germany, Navalny returned to Russia in mid-January and was immediately arrested. He blames the Russian state for the attack.

The city of Moscow warned against participation in the unsanctioned demonstrations on Wednesday, citing coronavirus regulations, and noted that police will take “all necessary measures” to ensure public order.

Human rights activists have criticized Russian authorities for using pandemic restrictions as a pretext to ban freedom of assembly. Earlier this year, thousands of people were arrested during Russia-wide demonstrations calling for Navalny’s release.

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