Navalny’s widow vows to take up the fight for Russia’s ‘freedom’

“Putin took from me the most valuable thing that I had, the closest and most loved person,” said Yulia Navalnaya on her husband’s YouTube channel

Updated - February 20, 2024 06:43 am IST

Published - February 19, 2024 11:01 pm IST - Warsaw

Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya (C) arrives for a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on February 19, 2024.

Leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya (C) arrives for a meeting of European Union Foreign Ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on February 19, 2024. | Photo Credit: AFP

Alexei Navalny's widow on Monday accused President Vladimir Putin of killing her husband and vowed to continue his life's work following his death last week in a Russian Arctic prison.

Yulia Navalnaya spoke as the Kremlin said it had no details about Navalny's death, while his mother Lyudmila was denied access to his body for a third day.

"Vladimir Putin killed my husband Alexei Navalny," Ms. Navalnaya said on Navalny's YouTube channel. "Alexei died in a prison colony after three years of torment and torture," she said.

Her address came shortly before she met EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

"I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny. I will continue to fight for the freedom of our country," Ms. Navalnaya said. "And I call on you to stand by me. Putin took from me the most valuable thing that I had, the closest and most loved person. But Putin also took Navalny from you," the 47-year-old said.

Kremlin slams Western accusations

Ms. Navalnaya, an economist, stood by her husband as he galvanised mass protests in Russia, flying him out of the country when he was poisoned before defiantly returning to Moscow with him in 2021, knowing he would be jailed.

The announcement she will replace Navalny is a momentous and unpredictable turn for Russia's exiled and beleaguered opposition, left leaderless after Navalny's death.

Russia will hold a presidential election on March 15-17 in which Mr. Putin has no real challengers.

Ms. Navalnaya said her husband's team knew "concretely" why Navalny was killed and they would work to "find out the names" of those behind his death.

The Kremlin said it had no results from an investigation into the death.

"At the moment, the results of the investigation have not been released, they are unknown," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

He decried Western statements blaming the Kremlin for Navalny's end as "absolutely unacceptable." He refused to say how Mr. Putin — who has not commented on the death — reacted to his opponent dying. He also refused to say when the body will be handed over.

Mother denied access

Navalny's allies said his mother Lyudmila was on Monday again denied access to a morgue in the Russian Far North.

"Alexei's mother and his lawyers arrived at the morgue early in the morning. They were not allowed to go in," Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on social media.

"One of the lawyers was literally pushed out. When the staff was asked if Alexei's body was there, they did not answer," she added.

Navalny's team have accused authorities of dragging out the process to "cover up their tracks".

Across Russia, mourners have laid flowers in memory of Navalny at monuments to victims of Soviet-era repression and hundreds of people have been detained.

In Moscow, AFP reporters saw a steady stream of people bring flowers to two monuments on Monday. At one known as the "Wall of Grief", a woman stood and cried, with a heavy police presence nearby. "One for all," read a note left by mourners, quoting a slogan Navalny often used at protests.

Another monument close to the headquarters of Russia's security service was visited by French ambassador to Moscow Pierre Levy.

Outside Russia, Russian emigres held vigils in European cities, where hundreds of thousands fled after Moscow launched its Ukraine offensive. In Kazakhstan — another country where many Russians fled — Russian rock legend Yuri Shevchuk performed a song in honour of Navalny on Sunday.

"Alexei Navalny who spoke to us, Russians, about freedom and who reminded us all that we could be free in the best sense of the word," Shevchuk told a crowd, according to Russian independent media.

Shevchuk played at anti-Putin rallies in Moscow in 2011, which thrust Navalny to the forefront of the Russian opposition movement.

Putin 'will be held accountable'

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell pledged to hold Putin to account for Navalny's death after meeting Navalny's widow.

"We expressed the EU's deepest condolences to Yulia Navalnaya. Vladimir Putin and his regime will be held accountable for the death of Alexei Navalny," Josep Borrell wrote on X, the former Twitter.

EU ministers considered their limited options for increasing pressure on the Kremlin over his death. The EU has already imposed heavy sanctions on Moscow, including on Putin, over the invasion of Ukraine. Officials concede it will be difficult to take significant further action.

Russia's prison service said on Friday that Navalny had died "after a walk" in the IK-3 prison colony in the Arctic Yamal region — known as the "Polar Wolf."

Navalny had continued even from behind bars to call on Russians to fight the government, calling on them "not to be afraid." He denounced Russia's Ukraine offensive one statement as "stupid and senseless".

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