Alexei Navalny's team confirms death, says his mother is searching for his body

Alexei Navalny’s spokesperson has confirmed that the Russian Opposition leader died and says he was “murdered”

February 17, 2024 06:35 pm | Updated February 19, 2024 01:29 pm IST

A woman touches a photo of Alexei Navalny after laying flowers paying the last respect to him at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

A woman touches a photo of Alexei Navalny after laying flowers paying the last respect to him at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: AP

Alexei Navalny’s spokesperson confirmed on February 17 that the Russian Opposition leader had died at a remote Arctic penal colony, and said he was “murdered," but it is unclear where his body is.

An official note handed to Mr. Navalny’s mother stated that he died at 2:17 p.m. local time on Feb. 16, Kira Yarmysh said. She added that an employee of the prison colony said that Mr. Navalny’s body was taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a probe into his death. She demanded that his body be handed over to his family.

When a lawyer and Mr. Navalny's mother visited the morgue in Salekhard, it was closed, his team said, writing on their Telegram channel. The lawyer called the morgue and was told that Mr. Navalny's body was not there, his team said.

“We demand that Alexey Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately,” Ms. Yarmysh wrote on X. The cause and the circumstances of Mr. Navalny’s death remain largely unclear.

Cause of Navalny’s death is ‘being established’

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 km northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn’t be revived. The cause of death is still “being established,” it said.

Maria Pevchikh, head of the board of 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.

Arrests continued on Feb. 17 after more than 100 people were detained in various Russian cities 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 there. In other cities across the country, police cordoned off some of the memorials and officers were taking pictures of those who came and writing down their personal data in a clear intimidation attempt.

Putin’s rival

Mr. 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 was later convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated, and received a sentence of 19 years for extremism. After the last verdict, he 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.”

The news of his death comes less than a month before an election that will give President Vladimir Putin another six years in power. 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 & Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

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.”

U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington doesn’t know exactly what happened, “but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did.” The Kremlin bristled at the outpouring of anger from world leaders, with Mr. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov as “inadmissible and outrageous," noting that medics haven't issued their verdict on the cause of Mr. Navalny's death.

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