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Updated Feb 16, 2024, 1:27pm EST
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Semafor Signals

How Russia is reacting to Alexei Navalny’s death

Insights from Novaya Gazeta, the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov, and Ostorozhno Media.

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FILE PHOTO: Opposition leader Alexei Navalny is detained by police during a protest march in Moscow, Russia, October 27, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
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The death of Alexei Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, has left Russians and Russia-watchers reeling. The outspoken lawyer and activist died after he reportedly collapsed on a walk near the Arctic penal colony where he was imprisoned, according to Russia’s federal prison service.

Reports of his death were initially met with skepticism from his family and close allies, but one spokesperson for Navalny said that the reaction from Kremlin officials suggested that it likely happened.

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Some Russia watchers opined that Putin appeared jubilant, and videos circulating on social media purported to show the president smiling during an interview broadcast by the Kremlin. Russian members of parliament were reportedly ordered not to comment on Navalny’s death, the independent outlet Agentstvo wrote on Telegram.

“Everything that is happening today and the emerging future is terrifying,” said Grigory Yavlinsky, head of Russian opposition party Yabloko.

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SIGNALS

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Protests and memorials in support of Navalny spring up across Russia

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Sources:  
Novaya Gazeta, The Ark, SOTA, Sirena

Russians are organizing memorials and protests in honor of Navalny across the country, according to independent Russian media and anti-war organizations. The are reportedly planned protests in several cities, including Kazan and Tomsk, where supporters are set to gather at each city’s respective memorials for the victims of political repression, according to a Telegram post from anti-war organization The Ark. In Moscow, a line of silent protesters queued up to lay flowers at a memorial to Gulag victims outside the FSB headquarters, under close police supervision. Meanwhile, a solo protester arrived in Novosibirsk, carrying a banner that read “who’s next?,” Russian independent outlet Novaya Gazeta reported. At least 13 protesters have been detained across Russia, according to Sirena, a Russian news outlet.

Navalny’s wife says Putin ‘will bear responsibility’ for his death

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Sources:  
Reuters, BBC Russia

In a brief address to the Munich Security Conference after reports of her husband’s death surfaced on Friday, Yulia Navalnaya said she was skeptical about the veracity of the claims since the statement came from Kremlin-affiliated sources. “We cannot trust Putin and the Putin government. They always lie,” she told the conference delegates. “But if this is true, I want Putin, his entire entourage, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family, to my husband. And this day will come very soon.”

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, said, “I don’t want to hear any words of sympathy. My son was seen in prison on the 12th. He had a visit. He was alive, healthy and cheerful,” according to BBC Russia.

Russian media quiet as Putin likely emboldened by Navalny’s death

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Sources:  
Ostorozhno Media, The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov, The Moscow Times

Reporters from Kremlin-backed news agencies have been ordered to stop publishing stories about Navalny’s death, independent Russian news organization Ostorozhno Media reported on Telegram. “State media journalists are asked to no longer write about statements by public figures related to the death of the politician,” the outlet wrote. Any new articles about Navalny will need to be linked to specific news events.

Putin, meanwhile, likely feels emboldened by both Navalny’s death and the changing political atmosphere surrounding his war in Ukraine: “Putin clearly feels that the wind is in his sails as the United States appears on the verge of abandoning Ukraine and possibly Europe, and he has no backlash to fear anymore,” The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov wrote on X.

Russian officials condemned the West for their accusations against the Kremlin, with the foreign ministry spokeswoman saying, “The immediate reaction of the leaders of NATO countries to Navalny’s death in the form of direct accusations against Russia is self-exposing. There is no forensic examination yet, but the West’s conclusions are already ready.”

The State Duma’s speaker said, “Washington and Brussels are to blame for Navalny’s death.”

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