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Alexey Navalny's team confirms the death of Putin critic, says his mother is searching for his body

Alexey Navalny's team confirms his death
Alexey Navalny's team confirms death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader 02:38

Alexey Navalny's spokesperson confirmed Saturday that the Russian opposition leader had died at a remote Arctic penal colony and said he was "murdered," but it is unclear where his body is.

Navalny's death at age 47 has deprived the Russian opposition of its most well-known and inspiring politician less than a month before an election that will give President Vladimir Putin another six years in power.

Although neither the imprisoned anti-corruption crusader nor other Kremlin critics were in position to challenge Putin for the presidency, the loss of Navalny was a crushing blow to Russians who had pinned their future hopes on Putin's seemingly indefatigable foe. It also prompted questions about what killed him.

A note handed to Navalny's mother stated that he died at 2:17 p.m. local time Friday, according to Navalny spokesperson Kira Yarmysh. Prison officials told his mother when she arrived at his former penal colony Saturday that her son had perished due to "sudden death syndrome," Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on social media. 

A tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 16, 2024.
A tribute to Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 16, 2024. AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky

A prison colony employee said the body was taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a post-mortem investigation, Yarmysh said. Navalny's team said the late politician's body was not being returned to his family until official tests were done.

When Navalny's mother and one of the late politician's lawyers visited the morgue in Salekhard, it was closed, Navalny's team wrote on its Telegram channel. But the lawyer called the morgue and was told that the body was not there, his team said.

Another of Navalny's lawyers went to Salekhard's Investigative Committee and was told that the cause of Navalny's death had not yet been established and that new investigations were being done with the results to be released next week, Yarmysh said.

Russia's Investigative Committee informed Navalny's team that the body would not be handed over to his relatives until those investigations were completed, she said.

"It's obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body," Yarmysh wrote on social media, adding that his team "demand that Alexey Navalny's body be handed over to his family immediately."

The life and impact of Alexey Navalny 02:33

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Navalny felt sick after a walk and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn't be revived. The cause of death is still "being established," it said.

Maria Pevchikh, head of the board of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that the opposition leader would "live on forever in millions of hearts."

"Navalny was murdered. We still don't know how we'll keep on living, but together, we'll think of something," she wrote on social media.

Meanwhile, arrests continued Saturday as Russians came to lay flowers in Navalny's honor at memorials to the victims of Soviet-era purges. OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia, said Saturday that more than 401 people had been detained since Navalny's death.

His team said it would pay the fines of anyone arrested while paying tribute to the late opposition leader.

Memorial items laid Friday were removed overnight, but people continued trickling in with flowers on Saturday. In Moscow, a large group of people chanted "shame" as police dragged a screaming woman from the crowd, video shared on social media showed.

More than 10 people were detained at a memorial in St. Petersburg, including a priest who came to conduct a service for Navalny there.

In other cities across the country, police cordoned off some of the memorials and officers were taking pictures of those who came and writing down their personal data in a clear intimidation attempt.

Police officers detain a man laying flowers to Alexey Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 16, 2024.
Police officers detain a man laying flowers to Alexey Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Feb. 16, 2024. AP Photo

"After the murder of Alexey Navalny, it's absurd to perceive (Russian President Vladimir) Putin as the supposedly legitimate head of the Russian state. He is a thug who maintains power through corruption and violence," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday.

"Just yesterday he tried to send us all a clear message — as the Munich Security Conference opened, Putin murdered another opposition leader," Zelenskyy said.

In Munich, Vice President Kamala Harris said Saturday she met with Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, and expressed her outrage and sorrow for Navalny's death.

"The reports of his death are further proof of Putin's brutality," Harris said during a news conference with Zelenskyy. "It reminds us why our support for Ukraine is so important."

U.K. Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Saturday that Britain "will be taking action" against the Russians responsible for Navalny's death.

Speaking to broadcasters in Munich, Cameron said "there should be consequences" for "appalling human rights outrages like this." He said Britain would "look at whether there are individual people that are responsible and whether there are individual measures and actions we can take." Cameron did not say whether the response would consist of financial sanctions or other measures.

On Friday, President Biden said that Washington doesn't know exactly what happened, "but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did." 

Blinken, Navalny's wife and others speak after reports of Russian opposition leader's death 03:17

The Kremlin bristled Friday at the outpouring of anger from world leaders, with Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, saying the statements are "unacceptable" and "outrageous," noting that medics haven't issued their verdict on the cause of Navalny's death.

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He was later convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated, and received a sentence of 19 years for extremism.

After the last verdict, Navalny said he understood he was "serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime."

Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said the loss of Navalny shows that "the sentence in Russia now for opposition is not merely imprisonment, but death."

Hours after Navalny's death was reported, Navalnaya made a dramatic appearance at the Munich conference.

She said she was unsure if she could believe the news from official Russian sources, "but if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin's friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband."

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