US urges UK to secure Kremlin critic’s release after Navalny death

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US diplomats are pushing the UK government to ramp up efforts to secure the release of an imprisoned Russian-British Kremlin critic, i has been told.

Vladimir Kara-Murza was jailed for 25 years on treason charges last year after he criticised Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Fears for his safety have increased following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny last week.

Mr Navalny died while being held in a remote penal colony in the Artic Circle. Foreign Secretary David Cameron has said that Russian President Putin should be held accountable for his death.

The attention of US diplomats has now turned to the imprisonment of Mr Kara-Murza, who last month was also transferred to an isolated cell in the remote penal colony of Omsk, as well as jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a serving US intelligence official told i.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained and charged with espionage in March 2023 at a court hearing in Moscow in April 2023 (Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/REUTERS)

With Russia already heavily sanctioned by the US and UK, “there is little more that can be done” to target the country’s economy, the source said.

Instead, resources will be focused on ensuring the safe release of Mr Kara-Murza and Mr Gershkovich, with US diplomats prepared to push UK officials to do more on the former.

A State Department Official said the US “strongly condemns Russia’s continued malicious targeting of Vladimir Kara-Murza”, adding they will “call for the release of all who are unjustly detained.”

The official told i: “The US Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens overseas.

“We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all US citizens detained in Russia.

“Not a week goes by without intensive activity to secure Evan’s release. We will continue to pursue every avenue until we are able to bring him home.”

Mr Kara-Murza was sentenced in April last year by a Russian court for spreading “false” information about the Russian army and being affiliated with an “undesirable organisation”.

The former journalist and politician received British citizenship when he moved to the UK as a teenager with his mother. He was a fierce critic of Putin, playing a key role in persuading Western governments to sanction Russian officials.

His sentence was condemned by the UK government, which sanctioned Russian judges and prosecutors for their roles in what it called a “politically motivated conviction”.

“This is desperate and unfounded,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said after Mr Kara-Murza’s appeal was rejected last July.

Mr Kara-Murza previously survived two poisoning attempts, which left him in a coma in both 2015 and 2017.

Following Mr Navalny’s death last week, Mr Kara-Murza’s wife Evgenia feared her husband would now meet the same fate.

“I’ve been sleeping with my phone since – dreading yet another call of that sort,” she said. “I believe that my husband’s life is in danger, as are lives of many other political prisoners.”

But despite the risks, she said she was still working to stand up against the Russian state.

“With all that’s happening, I cannot afford to break down. I cannot afford to be afraid. I cannot afford the normal human feeling of fear.”

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