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Updated Feb 16, 2024, 10:04am EST
Europe
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Semafor Signals

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is dead, prison service says

Insights from The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Princeton University.

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FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets region during a hearing against the Ministry of Justice in Supreme Court, in Moscow, Russia, January 11, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
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The News

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died, Russia’s prison service said on Friday.

The vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was serving a lengthy sentence at a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle where he was moved late last year.

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The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District said that Navalny, 47, fell ill after a walk. Navalny’s legal team said they had received no confirmation of his death and that his lawyer was now traveling to the prison colony.

Navalny, a lawyer and anti-corruption activist, received a 19-year prison sentence last August, adding to the nine-year sentence he was already serving, after he was found guilty of extremism — offenses that are widely considered politically motivated.

People close to the activist have claimed that he was killed.

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“Russian authorities [published] a confession that they killed Alexey Navalny in prison,” Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, wrote on X. “We do not have any way to confirm it or to prove this isn’t true.”

In August 2020, Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a deadly nerve agent, while on a flight to Moscow. He was placed in a coma, but survived the incident.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Navalny galvanized widespread protests against the Kremlin

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Source:  
The Guardian

Navalny rose to prominence more than a decade ago after mobilizing protests against the Kremlin and corruption in Russia. He led Russia of the Future, a party that campaigned against Putin’s government, investigating the Kremlin’s top brass and publishing videos with their findings. Between 2011 and 2013, he galvanized thousands to the streets, calling for a “Russia without Putin.” One protester told The Guardian at the time that “there is a feeling of unity in our discontent,” adding that “the people coming to protests are beautiful, clever, educated. It’s very pleasant.”

Navalny’s mayoral run suggested strong support

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Sources:  
Princeton University, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel

The support Navalny commanded in his 2013 run for mayor of Moscow — a posting long believed to be reserved for Kremlin strongmen — was viewed as a barometer of Russian citizens’ demand for change. The election was widely considered to be neither free nor fair, but Navalny received 27% of the vote against incumbent candidate Sergei Sobyanin. The backing Navalny got “was seen by many as evidence that the Kremlin could no longer maintain its monopoly on political power,” Princeton University Library noted. Navalny campaigned not against Sobyanin, but against Putin — a tactic that resonated with supporters, who clung to his comments that the president’s United Russia party was a “party of crooks and thieves.” The clear loser of the election was Putin himself, German outlet Der Spiegel wrote at the time.

The pursuit of ‘honest lives’

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Source:  
The New Yorker

After his poisoning by Novichok in 2020, Navalny was moved to Germany for medical care. He returned to Russia, knowing he would be arrested upon landing, columnist Masha Gessen noted in a 2021 profile for The New Yorker. Navalny would have been well aware of the conditions he would face behind bars, Gessen wrote, and knew “the system better than anyone; he knows that human life has no value in it, and he never imagined that the system would make an exception for him.” In a note to Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats, his friend and mentor, following his arrest, Navalny wrote: “Everything will be all right. And, even if it isn’t, we’ll have the consolation of having lived honest lives.”

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