Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic jail, Russian prison service says

Joe Biden says ‘Make no mistake: Putin is responsible’

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has died in an Arctic penal colony, according to the country’s prison service, with western leaders condemning his treatment and blaming President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Putin’s most prominent opponent, Mr Navalny fell ill after a walk in the prison’s yard and “lost consciousness almost immediately”, the Russian prison service said on Friday, adding that attempts to resuscitate the 47-year-old failed and “the reasons for his death are being clarified”.

Western leaders were quick to suggest that Mr Navalny’s death was caused by the Russian government.

“Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” said US president Joe Biden. “Putin is responsible. What has happened to Navalny is more proof of Putin’s brutality.”


French president Emmanuel Macron said: “In today’s Russia, free spirits are sent to the gulag and condemned to death. Anger and indignation… My thoughts go out to his family, loved ones and to the Russian people.”

A charismatic anti-corruption activist, Mr Navalny was jailed just over three years ago after returning to Russia from Germany following treatment for a nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on Mr Putin.

The Kremlin then steadily moved to isolate him from the outside world by holding him under increasingly restrictive conditions in notoriously harsh and remote prison colonies.

In December, he was relocated to a jail in the Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia, above the Arctic Circle, after disappearing from public view and falling out of contact with his legal team for several weeks.

Mr Navalny’s exiled team of supporters said on Friday it had “no confirmation” of the activist’s death, adding that a lawyer for Mr Navalny was travelling to the prison.

Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, gave an unannounced speech at the Munich Security Conference, saying: “If this is true, I want Putin and all of his entourage, Putin’s friends and his government to know they will be held accountable for what they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband. And that day will come very soon.”

In Moscow, Russians lined up in the snow to lay flowers in honour of Mr Navalny at a memorial to victims of Soviet prison camps, according to videos posted on social media. They laid flowers in several other cities despite recent harsh crackdowns on displays of dissent against Mr Putin.

Police made no attempt to stop the mourners laying flowers but pressed them to leave the area after doing so, said Olga (31), a financial analyst who attended the Moscow memorial close to the headquarters of the FSB intelligence agency.

“When I was walking away, I saw quite a few people with flowers on their way to the monument, which I guess is the most important thing in all of it really – seeing others share your shock and resentment,” she said.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that Russia would leave the investigation into Mr Navalny’s death to prison authorities.

He dismissed western claims the Kremlin was responsible. “There is no information. And they are making these statements. It is obvious that these are totally unfounded and unacceptable statements. They are unacceptable,” he said, according to Interfax.

Margarita Simonyan, editor of state news network RT, said: “I won’t even try to explain [to the West] that everyone forgot about him long ago, that there was no point in killing him, especially before the elections [next month] – it’s to the benefit of the opposite forces.”

Despite his sentence, Mr Navalny had continued to exchange regular messages with supporters through letters and his lawyers in which he regularly spoke out against Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin had tried to cut Mr Navalny off further by arresting several of his lawyers last year on charges of being part of an “extremist group”, which carry a sentence of up to six years in prison.

It also repeatedly punished him by holding him in solitary confinement on 27 separate occasions for alleged infractions of prison rules, most recently from Wednesday.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a Nobel laureate, wrote that the repeated stints in the punishment cell had probably contributed to his death. “You can’t move, the food’s not nutritious, there’s not enough air, it’s cold all the time,” he wrote. “Alexei Navalny was put through suffering and torture for three years. As Navalny’s doctor said to me: the body can’t handle that.”

Garry Kasparov, an exiled former opposition leader, wrote: “Putin tried and failed to murder Navalny quickly and secretly with poison, and now he has murdered him slowly and publicly in prison. He was killed for exposing Putin and his mafia as the crooks and thieves they are.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024