Alexei Navalny, Russia’s main opponent, died in prison

Navalni’s death – after three years in prison and after surviving a poisoning that the activist blamed on the Kremlin – leaves the opposition without its best-known figure ahead of presidential elections in which key anti-government politicians are banned.

Resistance in Russia is reduced to a minimum as the Kremlin wages a harsh campaign of repression against any critical voice, a policy that intensified after the offensive in Ukraine began in February 2022.

Russian authorities gave few details about the circumstances of Navalny’s death, limiting themselves to a statement in which they assured that they would make every effort to revive the opponent.

“On February 16, 2024, in Penitentiary No. 3, prisoner Navalny AA felt unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness,” said a statement from the Yamal Arctic Region Penitentiary Service.

“All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, but did not produce a positive result,” the correctional authorities said.

The activist was imprisoned after being convicted of “extremism” and served a 19-year sentence in a remote Arctic prison colony under very harsh conditions.

The multiple trials against him have been criticized and branded as politically motivated trials and a strategy to punish his opposition to Putin.

The Russian president – who never spoke Navalny’s name – was informed of his death, according to his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Navalny was a lawyer who rose to prominence in Russia in the 2010s through videos posted online denouncing corruption, allegations that were ignored by official media.

Later, as an activist, he helped organize large opposition demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, which were harshly repressed.

Navalny was very close to nationalism and over time established himself as Putin’s main opponent, whom he sharply criticized and declared that his party consisted of “thieves and fraudsters”.

The US claims that Russia is responsible.

From abroad, major Western powers from the United States to Germany, Spain, France and the United Kingdom mourned Navalni’s death, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia needed to answer “serious questions” about his death.

U.S. diplomatic chief Anthony Blinken said Russia was “responsible” for the deaths, a position the European Union agreed with.

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Putin “must be held accountable for his crimes.” In the trial against him, Navalny described the Russian military operation in Ukraine as “the stupidest and most senseless war of the 21st century.”

In his trial hearings, which he attended via video in recent months, this stocky man with blue eyes appeared very thin and emaciated.

Leonid Solovyov, one of Navalny’s lawyers, told the foreign independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that the opponent was “normal” when one of his representatives visited him on Wednesday.

“Due to the decision of Alexei Navalny’s family, I will not make any comments. Now we are organizing things,” he said.

The editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, called the death a “murder.”

Poisoned in 2020.

The opponent had several health problems related to a hunger strike and the poisoning he suffered in Siberia in August 2020, in the middle of the campaign for the regional elections.

As he lay dying, he had to be transferred to Germany for treatment, a transfer with the approval of the Kremlin.

Despite knowing that arrest awaited him, he decided to return to Russia and was arrested at the airport in January 2021.

Prison did not undermine his resolve. In the last hearings and in the messages published on social networks that he sent to his lawyers, he did not stop criticizing Putin, whom he described as a “grandfather hiding in a bunker” since the Russian president is hardly in appears to the public.

In his online messages, he joked about the humiliations he suffered in prison.

On February 1, Navalny’s entourage published a message calling for demonstrations in Russia ahead of the March 15-17 presidential election.

The Russian president’s victory appears to be a fact as opponents, of whom Navalny was the most prominent, are either imprisoned or in exile.

In one of his final messages, Navalny called for people to vote for “any other candidate” except Putin and called the elections a “parody.”

SPRING: AFP

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