Home » Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic prison, Kremlin receives strong criticism

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic prison, Kremlin receives strong criticism

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic prison, Kremlin receives strong criticism

Moscow —

Alexei Navalny, the staunchest enemy of Russian President Vladimir Putin and who fought against official corruption and organized mass protests against the Kremlin, died in prison on Friday, according to the country’s prison service. He was 47 years old.

Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday and lost consciousness, the Federal Penitentiary Service explained in a statement. The ambulance that arrived at the penal colony where he was serving his sentence tried to revive him but he died.

“All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not give positive results. The ambulance doctors confirmed the death of the prisoner,” said the penitentiary service, adding that the causes of death are being established.

News of Navalny’s death — less than a month before an election that will give Putin another six years in power — sparked fresh criticism and outrage against the Kremlin leader, who has repressed all opposition in his country.

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that Putin is “responsible” of Navalny’s death.

“Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death, Putin is responsible,” the president stressed from the White House, who also praised the work of the activist, a staunch critic of the Russian president, and who upon dying, served a sentence of 19 years in a Russian prison after having survived a poisoning a few years ago that almost cost him his life.

Navalny had been in prison since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from a nerve poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he received three prison sentences that he rejected on the grounds that they were politically motivated.

Navalny, who was serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges, was transferred in December from a prison in Vladimir, central Russia, to a “special regime” penal colony — the highest security level in the prison system. Russian — above the Arctic Circle.

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The opposition leader’s health had recently deteriorated and the cause of his death remains unknown, but many world leaders ultimately blamed Russian authorities for his death.

“His death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underlines the weakness and rot at the heart of the system Putin has built. “Russia is responsible for this,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a conference in Germany.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stressed that Navalny “has probably now paid for that courage with his life.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin has been informed about Navalny’s death. The opposition leader’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the team did not yet have confirmation and that her lawyer was traveling to the town where he was being held.

“Terrible news about Alexei Navalny (…) If the report about his death in a Russian prison is true, it represents another terrible crime by the Putin regime,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on X.

“The cruelty against Navalny demonstrates once again why it is necessary to continue fighting authoritarianism.”

Jokes a day before

Shortly after the news of his death was known, the Russian social network channel SOTA showed images of the politician supposedly in court yesterday. Navalny is seen standing, laughing and exchanging jokes with the judge via video link.

On the television screen, Navalny, dressed in a black prison uniform, looked through a barred window, laughing and joking about the depletion of his funds and the judge’s salary.

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Navalny appeared well and cheerful when he testified by video conference on Thursday. The camera panned back to show the court officials smiling next to him, enjoying the banter.

“Your Honor, I will send you my personal account number so you can use your enormous salary as a federal judge to ‘warm up’ my personal account, because I am running out of money,” he said.

Harsh prison regime

His transfer to the prison in Kharp, a town in the Arctic Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, was seen by his supporters as another attempt to force Navalny into silence.

This remote region is known for its long, harsh winters. Kharp is about 100 km (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were part of the Soviet-era gulag system.

Russian newspaper editor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov told Reuters on Friday that Navalny’s death was a “murder”, and said he believed harsh treatment had caused his death.

“I sincerely believe that it was the conditions of detention that led to Navalny’s death (…). His sentence was complemented with murder,” Muratov said.

[Con información de Reuters y AP]

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