Alexei Navalny death: Protests and outrage grow after Putin's 'murder' of Russian opposition leader

A wave of protests has swept Russia over the suspicious death of Russian anti-corruption dissident Alexei Navalny
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While floral tributes pile up outside the Russian embassy in London, protests are spreading across Soviet cities after the sudden death of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

News of Navalny's death came out on Friday. The official line from Russia’s federal prison service is that the 47-year-old politician and anti-corruption campaigner had died after becoming unwell following a walk on Friday and losing consciousness. An ambulance arrived but he died despite attempts to resuscitate him, the agency said.

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However, several people - including the UK's Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns and Navalny's spokesperson - have described the death as a 'murder' by Russian president Vladimir Putin. And protests across Russia are beginning to gain momentum as anger grows about Putin's seeming disregard for the rule of law. Arrests continued today (Saturday) after more than 100 people were detained in various Russian cities on Friday when they came to lay flowers in memory of Mr Navalny at memorials to the victims of Soviet-era purges, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia.

The tributes were removed overnight, but people continued trickling in with flowers on Saturday. In Moscow, a large group of people chanted “shame” as police dragged a screaming woman from the crowd, a video shared on social media showed.

More than 10 people were detained at a memorial in St Petersburg, including a priest who came to conduct a service for Mr Navalny. In other cities across the country, police cordoned off some of the memorials, with officers taking pictures of those who attended and writing down their personal data in a clear intimidation attempt.

 Navalny’s spokesperson confirmed that the Russian opposition leader died at a remote Arctic penal colony - but it is unclear where his body is.

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An official note handed to Navalny’s mother stated that he died at 2.17pm local time on Friday, Kira Yarmysh said. She added that an employee of the prison colony said that Navalny’s body was taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a probe into his death.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Navalny’s mother had been told by prison officials that her son had perished due to “sudden death syndrome” when she arrived at his former penal colony on Saturday with one of the politician’s lawyers. When they visited the mortuary in Salekhard, it was closed, Mr Navalny’s team wrote on its Telegram channel. The lawyer called the mortuary and was told that Mr Navalny’s body was not there, his team said.

Floral tributes outside the Russian Embassy in London for jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who died on Friday Picture: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire Floral tributes outside the Russian Embassy in London for jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who died on Friday Picture: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire
Floral tributes outside the Russian Embassy in London for jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny who died on Friday Picture: Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire

Another of Mr Navalny’s lawyers went to Salekhard’s Investigative Committee and was told that the cause of Mr Navalny’s death has not yet been established and that new investigations are being done with the results to be released next week, Ms Yarmysh said.

“It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body,” she wrote on X, adding that his team “demand that Alexei Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately”.

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Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Mr Navalny felt sick after a walk and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometres (1,200 miles) north-east of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he could not be revived. The cause of death is still “being established”, it said.

Maria Pevchikh, head of the board of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that the opposition leader would “live on forever in millions of hearts”. “Navalny was murdered. We still don’t know how we’ll keep on living, but together, we’ll think of something,” she wrote on X.

Who was Alexei Navalny?

Alexei Anatolyevich Navalny was a Russian opposition leader, a lawyer, an anti-corruption activist and campaigner, and latterly a political prisoner. He organised anti-government demonstrations and made a bid for power himself on a ticket of reforming Russian corruption - a move which made him Putin's public enemy number one.

He was of Russian and Ukrainian descent - his father was from near Chernobyl in Ukraine and while Navalny grew up in Obninsk, about 60 miles from Moscow, he spent summers in Ukraine and could speak the language. According to Wikipedia, his parents, Anatoly Navalny and Lyudmila Navalnaya, owned a basket-weaving factory in the village of Kobyakovo, Vologda Oblast.

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He worked as a lawyer for several years, and also was a co-founder of the National Russian Liberation Movement, a nationalist movement that aimed to unite people against the ruling regime and promote national revival. Navalny was the leader of the Russia of the Future party and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, proving a regular thorn in Putin's side. Famously, in a 2011 interview, he described Russia's ruling party, United Russia, as a "party of crooks and thieves", which became a popular and widely-adopted summary.

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He had fallen ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow and was hospitalised in Omsk, before being evacuated to Germany where doctors confirmed he had been poisoned.

He was convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated, and received a sentence of 19 years for extremism. After the last verdict, Mr Navalny said he understood he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime”.

How has the world reacted to Navalny's death?

It shows “that the sentence in Russia now for opposition is not merely imprisonment, but death”, said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

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Hours after Mr Navalny’s death was reported, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, made a dramatic appearance at a security conference in Germany where many world leaders had gathered. She said she was unsure if she could believe the news from official Russian sources, “but if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband”.

There will be “consequences” for the death of Alexei Navalny, Lord David Cameron has said, as Western capitals pinned the blame on Vladimir Putin. In London, the Foreign Office summoned diplomats at the Russian Embassy and called for Mr Navalny’s death to be “investigated fully and transparently”.

“There should be consequences,” the Foreign Secretary told broadcasters at the Munich Security Conference. “When appalling human rights outrages like this take place, what we do is we look at whether there are individual people that are responsible and whether there are individual measures and actions we can take. We don’t announce them in advance, so I can’t say any more than that. But that is what we will be looking at. Of course we have already summoned the ambassador and made clear our views about this dreadful event and the way this person was treated.”

He said he would be meeting with G7 foreign ministers at the German gathering: “I am clear that we will be taking action and I would urge others do to the same.”

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer gave his backing to the government, telling Sky News: “Russia has to be held to account on this. The government is right about that. It is a reminder of the constant threat of Russia. It’s one of the reasons I’m here at the Munich Security Conference to be clear about the priorities and the challenges that I see as Labour leader.”

US President Joe Biden said Washington does not know exactly what happened, “but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who attended the same conference on Saturday alongside other world leaders, told those attending: “Putin kills whoever he wants. After the murder of Alexei Navalny, it’s absurd to perceive Putin as a supposedly legitimate head of a Russian state and he is a thug who maintains power through corruption and violence.”

The Kremlin bristled at the outpouring of anger from world leaders, with Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov noting that medics have not issued their verdict on the cause of Mr Navalny’s death.

What happens next?

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Navalny's death comes less than a month before an election that will give Mr Putin another six years in power.

Critics of Mr Putin, whose invasion of Ukraine is now approaching its second anniversary, said the Russian leader had wanted to send a message both to activists inside Russia but also to the West.

Last week right-winger US Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene told Lord Cameron to “kiss my ass” following his intervention in US politics, amid concern in the UK and Europe about wavering support in Washington for the war against Vladimir Putin.

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