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Aleksei Navalny’s Death

Rachel Loeb


Aleksei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption advocate, passed away on February 16 at the age of 47 while in custody at an Arctic prison, where he was serving a 3-decade prison term. Throughout his public career, Navalny galvanized a generation of young Russians through social media and gained renown for his investigations into Russia’s elite. The exact cause of Navalny’s death remains unconfirmed, but Russia’s harsh penal colonies, including the one where he was held, are infamous for their hazardous conditions, suggesting he likely faced exceptionally severe treatment. Navalny's passing will undoubtedly carry significant repercussions, and to fully comprehend his legacy it’s important to have an understanding of pertinent background information. 

In 2000, when Vladimir Putin was initially elected as president of Russia, Navalny joined the liberal Yabloko party. He persisted in his opposition to Putin, gradually expanding his influence by moderating political debates, hosting a radio show, and criticizing pro-Putin figures in a popular blog. Navalny vocally criticized the Kremlin over issues such as lawless Moscow construction projects, aiming to mobilize grassroots support against Putin. In 2011, Navalny led thousands in protests over fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections, marking the largest anti-Kremlin demonstrations since Putin's presidency began. After he was barred from running in Russia’s 2018 presidential election due to a fraud conviction, Navalny organized nationwide protests and boycotts in response to Putin’s reelection, as well as led an investigation into the corruption of the Russian elite. He faced further repression as he was imprisoned over accusations of money laundering, and raiding the homes of fellow activists. 

In 2020, Navalny fell ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow and was later determined to have been poisoned with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, a class of chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union, by Russian agents—a claim the Kremlin denies. After going to Germany for treatment, with a flight that was delayed by Russian doctors, he returned to Moscow and was arrested immediately upon arrival. In response, tens of thousands of protesters staged the largest public showdown in years between the Kremlin and its critics, demanding Navalny's release. Navalny was sentenced to a two-year prison term, and in prison he went on a hunger strike to protest inadequate medical treatment, worsening his health. In 2022, the documentary “Navalny” premiered, which followed Aleksei Navalny’s investigation into his poisoning. On stage at the event, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, asserted that the reason he was imprisoned was for "telling the truth" and "defending democracy." In August 2023, Navalny received an additional 19-year sentence for supporting "extremism." He was transferred to the harsh IK-3 Polar Wolf penal colony, and on February 15, he was seen in a video at a court hearing, only to be reported unconscious and deceased the following day. The authorities at the prison where he was held said he collapsed after a short walk and suffered from "sudden death syndrome".

Aleksei Navalny’s mother was told she has to wait 14 days to receive his body, which has raised suspicions that Navalny was poisoned and the Kremlin is waiting for the poison to disappear from his body. In a video message, his mother said, “Vladimir Putin killed my husband ... We know exactly why Putin killed Alexei three days ago. We will tell you about it soon.” According to a spokesman for the family, his body was transferred to his mother on February 25. It is unclear whether he will be having a funeral which the public can attend, and many believe that the Russian authorities were attempting to blackmail his mother into burying him privately.

Navalny's death has prompted an outpouring of grief, anger, and calls for justice, uniting world leaders and demonstrators worldwide. In London, demonstrators projected an image of Aleksei Navalny on the Russian embassy. In Washington, President Biden called a news conference and declared, “Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.” His death also stunned Russian dissidents and left Russia without their opposition to Putin’s increasingly repressive policies. Across Russia, At least 400 people have been detained at Navalny memorials since his death. His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, pledged to continue his mission for a democratic Russia, representing a newfound hope for united opposition to Putin's regime despite the challenges posed by his absence as many of the Russian opposition figures are in exile and none with the widespread support that Navalny had. Although there is no clear successor to his legacy, the strategies that Navalny developed in his fight against the Putin regime have spread to a diverse group of Russian pro-democracy advocates, and his mission will continue, with him as the martyr of the cause.


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