2024February 2024International NewsEurope

Alexei Navalny, Putin’s Fiercest Critic, Dies in Russian Custody Ahead of Russian Elections

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Andrew Travis
Staff Writer

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent political prisoner and the figurehead for the opposition movement against Russian President Vladimir Putin, reportedly died in prison on February 16 at age 47. His death was announced through a message to his mother by Russian authorities at a high-security Arctic penal colony where he had been serving a combined 30 ½ year sentence since 2021, according to a post on X by Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmish. 

The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, according to Reuters. The Associated Press reported that an ambulance arrived, but Navalny was not able to be revived. 

Navalny’s death comes less than a month before a Russian election that is likely to keep Vladimir Putin in power for at least six more years. 

In a talk on Friday, according to CSPAN, President Biden blamed Vladimir Putin for Navalny’s death, calling it “proof of Putin’s brutality,” and said that “there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did.” Biden joined many world leaders in placing the blame on Putin. 

Navalny rose to prominence in 2011, organizing mass protests that year and the following after it became clear Putin would win the election, PBS reports.  He went on to run against and come ahead of Putin’s candidate in Moscow’s Mayoral Election in 2013, putting him in the political spotlight. Despite multiple arrests, repeated threats, and concerns for his safety through the following years, Navalny pressed on in opposition to Putin’s party. 

Navalny continued organizing mass protests and led an anti-corruption campaign, the Anti-Corruption Foundation, or ACF, that harnessed the internet and social media to get his message across. His message led him to gain over 6 million subscribers on YouTube

In 2020, Navalny survived an FSB poison attack on a flight from Tomsk, Siberia, to Moscow. According to The Guardian, after his plane made an emergency landing and he subsequently received treatment, he was taken to Germany, where scientists and doctors confirmed that he had been poisoned with Soviet-era Novichok. He slowly recovered in Europe and prepared to return to Russia. 

In January 2021, Navalny returned to Russia with his wife and was detained upon his arrival. Following his arrest, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, causing mass protests and the arrests of over 10,000 protestors in Russia, according to The Associated Press. He continued to be sentenced for more offenses in the months following, and at the time of his death, Navalny was set to serve more than three decades in prison. 

According to Navalny in his video interviews, he faced oppression, stating that the kremlin wanted to “break him” for staying alive, according to The Guardian. He went on hunger strikes and complained of pains that many feared were the result of a “slow-poison,” which would have been used to kill him slowly over time. 

In December, Navalny went dark and his location became unknown. Many feared the worst until his allies located him a few weeks later at a penal colony above the Arctic Circle, which would be the last place he would live, reported The Guardian. Yarmysh said last month that he had spent more than 280 days in isolation, according to  BBC News

Navalny leaves behind a legacy of activism and standing up to the face of corruption, even when threatened with arrest, harm, or death. His death leaves an even larger stain on Putin’s track record of silencing enemies to maintain power. 

In a prerecorded video of the event of his death, he was asked what he would say to the Russian people if he were killed.

“My message for the situation if I am killed is very simple: don’t give up.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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