Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, steps up to lead fight against Putin

Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, steps up to lead fight against Putin


RIGA, Latvia — Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable opponent, vowed on Monday to carry on her husband’s crusade against the Russian regime, striving to build “a free, peaceful, happy Russia, a beautiful Russia of the future, which my husband dreamed of so much.”

Navalnaya, 47, made her announcement in a video statement on YouTube, in which she accused Russian authorities of fatally poisoning Navalny in the Arctic prison where he died suddenly on Friday at age 47.

“Putin did not only murder the person, Alexei Navalny,” she said, clad in black and her voice occasionally trembling during the dramatic video address. “He wanted, along with him, to kill our hope, our freedom, our future.”

Navalnaya also accused the Russian authorities of refusing to hand over Navalny’s body to his 69-year-old mother so they could cover up the cause of death.

“They lie pathetically, and wait for the traces of another Putin’s Novichok to disappear there,” said Navalnaya, referring to the class of nerve agent that international investigators said Russian security agents used in an August 2020 attempt to assassinate her husband.

“My husband could not be broken, and that’s exactly why Putin killed him, in the most cowardly way,” she continued. “He did not have the courage to look him in the eye or even say his name. And now they are also cowardly, hiding his body, not showing him to his mother, not giving it to her.”

Three days after Navalny’s sudden death Friday, the location of his body was still unclear on Monday and his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, was again rebuffed by morgue officials in the Arctic town of Salekhard, 33 miles from the prison colony where he died, Navalny’s press secretary said.

Navalny’s grieving family and political team have demanded the return of his remains since Saturday but have faced an extended, almost surreal, struggle to recover his body or even to establish its location — with Russian officials seemingly determined to obstruct any independent investigation into the cause of death and delay a funeral.

Navalnaya was in Brussels on Monday to address European Union foreign ministers who invited her in a show of solidarity and as a follow-up to her emotional appearance at the Munich Security Conference on Friday shortly after the news broke of her husband’s death.

At the meeting in Brussels, she sat next to the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, surrounded by diplomats and officials, looking exhausted but determined.

“We expressed the E.U.’s deepest condolences to Yulia Navalnaya,” Borrell posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Vladimir Putin & his regime will be held accountable for the death of Alexei.” … “As Yulia said, Putin is not Russia. Russia is not Putin,” Borrell continued. “We will continue our support to Russia’s civil society & independent media.”

Navalnaya also met with European Council President Charles Michel.

Even after his death, Russian authorities aim to repress support for Navalny

In her video statement, Navalnaya vowed that she and her husband’s team would find out those directly responsible for her husband’s death and expose exactly how it was done. “We’ll name names and show faces. But the main thing we can do for Alexei and for ourselves is to keep fighting,” she said.

“I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny,” Navalnaya proclaimed, adding:

“By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul. But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up. I will continue Alexei Navalny’s cause.”

She also directly addressed one of the resonant questions in the West about her husband: Why did he return to Russia in 2021 after recovering from the poisoning attack in Germany, risking likely arrest and possible death, when he could have lived peacefully with his family in exile?

“He could not,” she said, fighting back tears. “Alexei loved Russia more than anything else in the world, loved our country, loved you. He believed in us, in our strength, in our future and in the fact that we deserve the best.”

Who was Alexei Navalny, Russian opposition leader and Putin critic?

On Friday, after news of her husband’s death emerged, Navalnaya met with the Belarusian opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who is also the wife of a jailed opposition politician and political prisoner.

Tikhanovskaya took the place of her husband, Sergey Tikhanovsky, as a presidential candidate in August 2020, after he was arrested that May — two days after he announced his intention to run in the elections against Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. Sergey Tikhanovsky remains in prison.

Tikhanovskaya, who now lives in exile in Lithuania, claimed victory in the Aug. 9 election, however Lukashenko clung to power triggering the largest street protests in Belarusian history and shocking authorities in Minsk and Moscow.

Eleven days later, on Aug. 20, Navalny was poisoned with a chemical nerve agent. Navalny later teamed up with Bellingcat, the investigative news group, and managed to prove that a team of agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, was responsible for tracking and poisoning him.

They identified many of the agents by name. Navalny telephoned one and tricked him into confessing his role in the failed assassination attempt.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, has not been allowed to see his body. She traveled on Saturday to the Polar Wolf prison just above the Arctic Circle in the Yamalo-Nenets region, where he died, and to the local morgue. Prison officials gave her a paper showing a time of death — 2:17 p.m. — but morgue officials denied they had the body.

After the Russian newspaper in exile Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that Navalny’s body was indeed at the morgue in Salekhard, the regional capital, Lyudmila Navalnaya and Navalny’s lawyers went to the morgue early Monday morning and were again denied access, Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, who lives outside Russia, posted on X.

“They were not allowed to go in. One of the lawyers was literally pushed out,” Yarmysh, wrote. “When the staff was asked if Alexei’s body was there, they did not answer.”

Members of Navalny’s team have also called his death a “murder,” while many world leaders, including President Biden, have said Putin bears responsibility for his death.

President Biden spoke from the White House on reports that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had died on Feb. 16. (Video: The Washington Post)

Amid fears that the real cause of death may never be known, Yarmysh said officials from Russia’s Investigative Committee, which handles major crimes, had extended their inquiry into the matter.

“They don’t say how long it will take. The cause of death is still ‘unknown.’ They lie, buy time for themselves and do not even hide it,” Yarmysh said.

On Saturday, Lyudmila Navalnaya was initially told by prison officials that her son died of “sudden death syndrome,” with Investigative Committee officials later offering contradictory accounts, stating that the cause was unknown.

Vladimir Putin, riding high before Navalny’s death, seems unstoppable

Putin, who has long made a point of virtually never uttering Navalny’s name, has made no comment about the death of the activist, who was viewed for more than a decade as the Russian leader’s most charismatic opponent.

Navalny was barred from running in the 2018 Russian presidential election against Putin, after his unexpectedly strong showing in the 2013 Moscow mayoral race.

Navalny faced numerous criminal charges, which he and many independent analysts said were trumped up for political retribution.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday that Putin had made no reaction to Navalny’s death and that the Kremlin was “not engaged” in the matter of the return of his body to his family. Asked whether the Kremlin was concerned about ensuring a thorough investigation into the cause of death, Peskov replied: “Those actions that are stipulated by Russian legislation are being carried out.”

“The investigation into Navalny’s death is underway, and the necessary actions are being carried out,” he said. “But the results have not yet been made public. It is not known about them.”

Peskov also criticized world leaders who said the Russian president was responsible for Navalny’s death, calling it “absolutely unacceptable to make such blatantly boorish statements.”

Tens of thousands of Russians have signed appeals for Navalny’s body to be returned to his family and for them to be granted access to the video-camera and body-camera footage from the prison and its staff.

‘Navalny’ director blames Putin for opposition leader’s ‘murder’

More than 50,000 signed a petition organized by OVD-Info, a legal rights group, to the Investigative Committee demanding the return of his body to the family, and more than 20,500 people signed a petition mounted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and longtime Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov, demanding that the family be granted access to the surveillance footage from the prison.

Independent Russian media outlet Mediazona published video Sunday of a convoy, including two police cars and a prison van, traveling on Friday night from the Polar Wolf prison colony toward Salekhard, possibly carrying Navalny’s body.

Novaya Gazeta Europe, quoting an ambulance paramedic, reported that Navalny’s body was initially taken to a district hospital in Salekhard, instead of directly to the morgue as is customary in the case of prison deaths. The body was later transferred to the morgue, according to the paramedic.

Natalia Abbakumova and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, and Emily Rauhala in Brussels, contributed to this report.


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