International Relationship

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is dead, prison service says

Feb 18, 2024
Putin’s most significant opponent collapsed while taking a walk in his prison near the Arctic Circle.

Alexei Navalny, long seen as the most significant political opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in prison on Friday, the federal prison service announced.

Navalny was held in a high security penal colony in Yamal near the Arctic Circle.

The death of the 47-year-old comes a month before a presidential election in which Putin is set to extend his more than two-decade rule and consolidate his grip on the country.

“It’s obvious” that Putin killed him, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

European governments were also quick to allude to Putin’s hand in the death. “Alexei Navalny paid with his life for his resistance to a system of oppression,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said on X. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsk´y also said that Navalny had been “imprisoned and tortured to death for standing up to Putin.”

The Yamal directorate of the federal penitentiary service issued a statement, describing what it said were the circumstances of his death.

“On February 16, 2024, in Penal Colony No. 3, the convict Alexei Navalny felt unwell after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness, according to representatives of the department,” the statement said.

“Medical personnel from the institution arrived promptly, and an ambulance crew was called. All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, but unfortunately, they did not yield positive results. The emergency medical team pronounced the convict dead. The cause of death is being investigated,” the statement added.

Such a sudden collapse was unexpected as Navalny had appeared in good health and spirits only on Thursday. The independent Russian news outlet SOTA published a video of a court session, in which he joked he was running out of spending money in prison.

Navalny’s mother also insisted there were no health problems. “I don’t want to hear any condolences. We saw our son in the colony on February 12, we had a visit. He was alive, healthy, and cheerful,” Liudmila Navalnaya wrote on Facebook, as cited by Russian independent outlet Novaya Gazeta.

For years, Navalny has been the most prominent opposition figure in Russia.

With the Kremlin cracking down on all forms of dissent, Navalny was seen as the only person still capable of mobilizing Russians to participate in organized protest against the Kremlin.

In August 2020 he went into a coma after suffering a poison attack with the nerve agent Novichok in what his supporters say was a state-sponsored attempt to kill him.

But Navalny survived and, after receiving treatment in Germany, returned to Russia in 2021.

Upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, he was immediately arrested and had been behind bars ever since.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova hit back at the reflex assumption that Putin murdered Navalny.

“The immediate reaction of NATO leaders to Navalny’s death in the form of direct accusations against Russia is self-exposing. There is still no forensic examination, yet Western conclusions are already prepared,” she said.

Putin was informed about Navalny’s death, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, but the president was pointedly silent about the news — a hallmark trait.

During a one-hour discussion with workers and students at a factory in Chelyabinsk on the Ural Mountains, which was broadcast live on Russian state media, he didn’t say a word about Navalny. Instead, he laughed and smiled as he discussed industry, robotics, trams, and tourism.

Yulia Navalnaya, the opposition leader’s wife, spoke at the Munich Security Conference: “Perhaps you’ve all seen the horrifying news coming today. I’ve been debating whether I should come here or fly to my children. But then I thought: what would Alexei do in my place?” she asked, from the stage. “I believe he would be on this stage.”

“I want Putin, his friends, and the government to know that they will be held accountable for what they have done to our country, our family, and my husband. And this day will come soon. I want to urge people around the world to unite and defeat this evil, this horrifying regime in Russia. This regime, and Putin personally, must bear personal responsibility for all the terrible things they have done to our country in recent years.”

In Russian cities, people are bringing flowers to monuments dedicated to the victims of Soviet political repression.

In Moscow, some also brought flowers to the doorstep of Navalny’s house. Reportedly, in the northern city of Murmansk, a woman appeared in the city center square holding a sign stating, “Alexei Navalny is killed. His blood is on your hands, Vova,” referring to Putin.

Russian activists abroad are planning to stage actions near Russian embassies in dozens of cities this evening, according to media reports.