Alexei Navalny, vocal critic of Vladimir Putin, dies in prison: Russian government

The Russian opposition leader was 47 years old.

February 16, 2024, 2:08 PM

LONDON -- Alexei Navalny, the longtime Russian opposition politician and critic of Vladimir Putin -- often considered to be a vocal and prominent thorn in the side of the Russian government -- has died in prison at age 47, according to the prison service.

"On 02/16/2024, in correctional colony No. 3, convicted Navalny A.A. felt ill after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness. The medical staff of the institution immediately arrived, and an ambulance team was called. All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not give positive results. The doctors of the emergency medical service pronounced the convict dead," the release said.

Navalny's parents and lawyer will be in the penal colony where he was being held on Saturday morning, according to Navalny's associate Ivan Zhdanov.

President Joe Biden addressed the U.S. following news of Navalny's death, saying he was both "not surprised and outraged" while placing the blame directly on Putin.

"We don't know exactly what happened but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was the result of something that Putin and his friends did," Biden said.

PHOTO: Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends the Munich Security Conference, on the day it was announced that Alexei Navalny is dead, in Munich, southern Germany on Feb. 16, 2024.
Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends the Munich Security Conference, on the day it was announced that Alexei Navalny is dead, in Munich, southern Germany on Feb. 16, 2024.
Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, addressed leaders at the Munich Security Conference in Germany following the reports of her husband's death, speaking just after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

"We cannot believe Putin, they always lie," she said. "If this is true, I want Putin and all of his entourage, Putin's friends and his government to know that they will be held accountable for what they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband. And that day will come very soon."

"I want to call on the entire world community, everyone in this room and people around the world, that we come together to unite and defeat this evil, defeat the horrific regime that is now in Russia," Navalnaya said.

"This regime and Vladimir Putin must bear personal responsibility for all the terrible things they have been doing to my family, to our country Russia, in recent years," she said.

Her speech was met with a standing ovation.

Asked whether the U.S. is considering more sanctions against Russia, Biden said they are "looking at a whole number of options."

Biden also applauded Navalny's determination to fight Putin and his regime even after Russia's attempted assassination of him.

"He was brave, he was principled, he was dedicated to building a Russia where a rule of law existed and it applied for everybody," Biden said of Navalny.

"Even in prison he was a powerful voice for the truth. And he could have lived safely in exile after the assassination attempt in 2020 -- which almost killed him I might add," Biden said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the reported death of Navalny during a meeting with the Indian minister of external affairs in Munich.

"If these reports are accurate, our hearts go out to his wife and to his family," Blinken said. "Beyond that, his death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built."

"Russia is responsible for this," Blinken continued. "We'll be talking to many other countries concerned about Alexei Navalny, especially if these reports bear out to be true."

Blinken and Harris each met with Navalnaya in Munich and offered their condolences.

"Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible," Harris said, reacting to the news of Navalny's death.

"We've all just received reports that Alexei Navalny has died in Russia. This is of course terrible news, which we are working to confirm," Harris said at the Munich Security Conference. "My prayers are with his family, including his wife, Yulia, who is with us today. And if confirmed, this would be a further sign of Putin's brutality."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova pushed back against the reaction from NATO leaders calling the accusations against Russia self-exposing and saying there hasn't been a forensic examination yet, but the West's conclusions were already ready.

PHOTO: A man holds a poster with a portrait of opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024.
A man holds a poster with a portrait of opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a protest in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024.
Markus Schreiber/AP

Navalny's mother reacted to the news with disbelief.

"I don't want to hear any condolences. We saw our son in the colony on the 12th, we were on a date. He was alive, healthy, cheerful," Lyudmila Navalnaya told Russian independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta.

In Russia, more than 83 people have been detained in seven cities at demonstrations following news of Navalny's death. The Moscow prosecutor's office issued a warning in connection with "calls for mass action." The department stated that "the specified mass event" was not coordinated with the Moscow authorities, and threatened the participants placing flowers with punishment, including administrative arrest.

Not long after the Russian government said Navalny had died, Navalny's spokeswoman said that -- for now -- they have no confirmation of his death and that they will address the public as soon as they have more information.

"For now we have no confirmation of that. Alexey's lawyer is flying now. As soon as we will have any kind of information we will provide it," Kyra Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman wrote on X.

His death, however, was later confirmed to be true.

Navalny was being held in an Arctic prison camp, after being transferred there in December.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who denounced blame from Western countries.

"The statements of Western countries are completely obvious," Peskov said. "There is no statement from doctors, no information from forensic experts, no final information from the Federal Penitentiary Service, no information about the causes of death. And there are such statements. It is obvious that they are absolutely rabid. We consider such statements absolutely unacceptable."

The White House said it was trying to confirm Navalny's death on their side, but for now national security advisor Jake Sullivan said, "If it's confirmed, it is a terrible tragedy."

"Given the Russian government's long and sordid history of doing harm to its opponents, it raises real and obvious questions about what happened here," Sullivan told NPR Friday morning. "But I'll withhold further comments on it until we learn more and we are actively seeking confirmation as I know, Mr. Navalny's family is as well and we'll determine from there what - what comes next."

(FILES) Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands inside a glass cell during a court hearing at the Babushkinsky district court in Moscow on February 20, 2021. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison, Russian agencies announced on February 16, 2024.
Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

The news of Navalny's death is sending shockwaves around the world.

Navalny was a giant in Russian politics and has been referred to as Russia's Nelson Mandela. He made his name with his extraordinary and fearless exposes of Putin's personal wealth and converted that into a movement for a free Russia without Putin.

He had come, for many Russians, to represent the hope of a democratic future for Russia. While he lived, despite the new depths of repression Russia has sunk to in the past two years, he represented hope, fueled by his indomitable optimism still broadcast from his prison cell.

Now, however, the anti-Kremlin opposition has just been all but extinguished.

While the cause of death is not yet known, there has been an immediate uproar of suspicions that he may have been murdered.

The suspicions are not unfounded.

In 2018, Russia's FSB attempted to murder Navalny with a nerve agent and nearly succeeded.

But ever since he returned to Russia in 2021 and was immediately jailed, there have been fears for his safety. While in prison, he has been subjected to relentless pressure, spending hundreds of days in solitary confinement and, more recently, being moved to a prison camp in the Arctic.

The timing of Navalny's death is also notable as it comes just a month before Russia's elections, when he -- again -- was telling people to mobilize and to try to expose vote rigging, all to undermine Putin's legitimacy through the vote.

Meanwhile, the pro-Kremlin propaganda channel RT is citing an anonymous source claiming Navalny died from a "blood clot."

The Kremlin has worked consistently to dismantle Navalny's peaceful movement, outlawing it as an "extremist organization" and arresting or driving into exile its leaders.

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