Biden 'Disturbed' by Decline in Alexei Navalny's Health, Calls for His Immediate Release

President Joe Biden is "disturbed" by reports of the declining health of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and is calling for his immediate release, according to the White House.

"We urge Russian authorities to take all necessary actions to ensure his safety and health," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday. "We consider Mr. Navalny's imprisonment on trumped-up charges to be politically motivated and a gross injustice."

Navalny, a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is on a hunger strike in protest of the poor medical care he's received in the prison where he's been held since his arrest earlier this year.

"We are disturbed by reports that Mr. Navalny's health is worsening and that he's on a hunger strike to demand access to outside medical care," Psaki said.

Psaki said the Biden administration is closely monitoring the situation.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that an attorney for Navalny said the activist has been diagnosed with a double spinal hernia and is losing feeling in both hands, following earlier reports of severe, prolonged back pain.

Navalny, 44, was sentenced to two and a half years behind bars over violating terms of a 2014 conviction that the European Court of Human Rights has deemed unfair.

Last month, Biden joined with the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russian officials and entities over the treatment of Navalny, who was previously poisoned and nearly died. He spent five months in Germany in recovery and was quickly arrested upon his return to Russia.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow this week that "all necessary actions are being taken" to address Navalny's health. "If we're really talking about a sickness, then the corresponding treatment will be provided," he said.

Psaki's remarks Wednesday reiterated the White House's view that Putin and his allies are targeting Navalny as an act of political retaliation and further underscore the frosty relationship between the two leaders. Just days after taking office, Biden and Putin spoke by phone and discussed the poisoning of Navalny, according to a White House readout of the call.

In a recent interview, Biden agreed that he thinks Putin is a "killer."

Putin responded by challenging Biden to a live telecast discussion between the two. That hasn't happened, and Psaki previously dismissed the idea.

"I would say the president already had a conversation with President Putin, even as there are more world leaders that he has not yet engaged with," she told reporters last month.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally in Moscow on July 20, 2019. Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP/Getty Images