West mounts pressure on Russia after Navalny's death in jail


Western nations Saturday mounted pressure on Russia, blaming its leader and the government for the death of leading Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison in opaque circumstances.

Navalny's death was announced on Friday after three years in detention and a poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

It deprives Russia's opposition of its figurehead just a month before an election poised to extend President Vladimir Putin's hold on power and comes at a time of intense repression and as Moscow's campaign in Ukraine nears its two-year anniversary.

The West blamed Putin and his government for the 47-year-old's death which followed months of deteriorating health in harsh detention conditions.

Australia's Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Navalny's "heroic opposition to Putin's repressive and unjust regime inspired the world".

"We hold the Russian Government solely responsible for his treatment and death in prison," Wong said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

US President Joe Biden was equally blunt, saying: "Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny's death".

Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov added: "Alexei Navalny was tortured and tormented for three years... Murder was added to Alexei Navalny's sentence".

The death was announced by Russia's federal penitentiary service, which said Navalny "felt bad after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness".

Russian news agencies reported that medics from a local hospital arrived within minutes and spent more than "half an hour" trying to resuscitate him.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said she held Putin personally responsible and called on the international community to "unite and defeat this evil, terrifying regime".

Navalny was Russia's most prominent opposition leader and won a huge following as he campaigned against corruption under Putin.

Putin -- who famously never referred to Navalny by name -- was on a visit to the Urals on Friday and made no mention of the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Western leaders of "absolutely unacceptable" and "hysterical" reactions to Navalny's death.

Moscow authorities also warned the public against taking part in any protests as videos shared online showed dozens of Russians laying flowers at monuments to victims of political repression in different Russian cities.

At least one person was detained for holding up a placard that appeared to say "murderers" in a video posted by the independent Sota Telegram channel.

Russia's OVD-Info rights group said police on Saturday detained over 100 people gathered at spontaneous memorials for Navalny across the country.

As of February 17, "more than 101 people have already been detained in 10 cities" including 11 in the capital Moscow, OVD-Info said on its website.

- 'Brutally murdered' -

One of Navalny's lawyers, Leonid Solovyov, told Novaya Gazeta newspaper that he was "normal" when another lawyer saw him on Wednesday.

In footage of a court hearing from his prison colony on Thursday, Navalny was seen smiling and joking as he addressed the judge by video link. State media reported he raised no health complaints during the session.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference hours after news of her husband's death, Yulia Navalnaya said Putin and his entourage "will be punished for everything they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband".

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Navalny had "paid for his courage with his life".

Britain's Foreign Office said it had summoned the Russian embassy "to make clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible" for Navalny's death.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said his death "reminds us of the reality of Putin's regime" and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Navalny had been "killed by Putin".

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for "a full, credible and transparent investigation".

The Russian foreign ministry hit back, saying the way Western leaders blamed Russia for his death showed their hypocrisy.

"There is no forensic examination yet, but the West already has conclusions ready," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to state news agency TASS.

- 'I'm not afraid' -

Navalny, who led street protests for more than a decade, became a household name through his anti-corruption campaigning.

His exposes of official corruption, posted on his YouTube channel, racked up millions of views and brought tens of thousands of Russians to the streets, despite harsh anti-protest laws.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

In a string of cases, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His return to Russia despite knowing he would face jail brought him admiration.

"I'm not afraid and I call on you not to be afraid," he said in an appeal to supporters as he landed in Moscow, moments before being detained on charges linked to an old fraud conviction.

His 2021 arrest spurred some of the largest demonstrations Russia had seen in decades, and thousands were detained at rallies nationwide calling for his release.

From behind bars he was a staunch opponent of Moscow's full-scale military offensive against Ukraine, and watched on, helplessly, as the Kremlin dismantled his organisation and locked up his allies.

Dozens of his top supporters fled into exile and continued to campaign against the offensive on Ukraine and repression inside Russia.

- 'Don't do nothing' -

Late last year, Navalny was moved to a remote Arctic prison colony in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia.

He said in January that his daily routine included prison walks in freezing temperatures.

Since being jailed in 2021, he spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement, where prison authorities kept him over alleged minor infringements of prison rules.

The last post on Navalny's Telegram channel, which he managed through his lawyers and team in exile, was a tribute to his wife posted on Valentine's Day.

In a documentary filmed before he returned to Russia, Navalny was asked what message he wanted to leave to the Russian people should he die or be killed.

"Don't give up. You mustn't, you can't give up," he said.

"All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, don't do nothing."

Comments 1
Thumb i.report 18 February 2024, 00:02

@ Collective West and AFP : Watch how, because you destroyed any credibility you had prior to the Gaza genocide, no one will take your comments and thoughts seriously.

That, and you should face trial in the Hague for assisting and abetting genocide.

Funny how Blinken is more concerned about a Russian citizen dying in a Russian prison, than an American blogger and filmmaker dying in a Ukrainian prison. RIP Gonzalo Lira !