Putin’s foe, Russian opposition leader, Navalny dies in prison

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Putin opponent Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic jail
Alexei Navalny (Photo - X)

On friday (16 Feb), Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was imprisoned, passed away in the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region. The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District reported on its website that Navalny experienced feeling unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness.

Despite medical staff’s efforts, they were unable to resuscitate him, and the cause of death is still under investigation. Navalny’s team, however, has not confirmed his death, as stated by his former deputy, Leonid Volkov, on X. It is said that Navalny’s lawyer is en route to Kharp, the location of Navalny’s penal colony, for further clarification.

Navalny has been in prison since January 2021, following his return to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning.

The Kremlin said President Putin had been informed of his death.

The 47-year-old opposition leader, a prominent figure among Russia’s fragmented opposition, gained international attention for his anti-corruption campaigns and critique of the Russian elite. He participated in Russian nationalist marches in the 2000s. Supporters saw him as a Russian counterpart to Nelson Mandela, anticipating his release to lead the country.

Poisoning

In August 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Tomsk, in Siberia, to Moscow. The pilot made an emergency landing and Navalny was flown to Berlin, where he was treated for the effects of a neurotoxin that German military tests showed to be Novichok, a poison developed in the Soviet Union.

Putin dismissed a joint media investigation that said it had identified a team of assassins from Russia’s FSB security service. “If someone had wanted to poison him, they would have finished him off,” he said.

Navalny voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021 after undergoing treatment in Germany. He exposed corruption in the Russian elite and participated in protests against President Vladimir Putin. However, the Kremlin dismissed his allegations of corruption and Putin’s wealth.

The Kremlin

Russian officials cast Navalny as an extremist who was a puppet of the U.S. CIA intelligence agency which they say is intent on trying to sow the seeds of revolution to weaken Russia and make it a client state of the West.

Navalny was detained countless times for organising public rallies, and prosecuted repeatedly on charges including corruption, embezzlement and fraud. He said the accusations and convictions were politically motivated.

Navalny had an extra 19 years in a maximum security penal colony added to his jail term in 2023 in a criminal case that he said was designed to bully the Russian people into political submission.

International Reaction

International reactions poured in, with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressing condolences and emphasizing Russia’s responsibility. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz highlighted Navalny’s courage and called it a tragic loss for a free and democratic Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy accused Putin of being responsible for Navalny’s death, condemning Putin’s disregard for human lives. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Minister David Cameron called for accountability, with Cameron insisting on holding Putin responsible.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen both mourned Navalny’s death, emphasizing the grim reality of Putin’s regime and the need to unite against autocracy.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed deep sadness and called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Navalny’s death. Navalny is survived by his wife Yulia, their daughter Darya, and their son Zakhar.

Yulia, addressed her husband’s demise at the Munich Security Conference, asserting that if the reported death by Russian state media proves true, Putin will not escape consequences for her husband’s demise.

“This regime and Vladimir Putin must be held personally responsible for all the terrible things that they have been doing to my country, to our country Russia, in recent years”, Navalnaya said.

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