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Since the death of opponent Alexeï Navalny, “I can’t stop crying”

Photo: Kin Cheung Associated Press People hold a photo of Alexeï Navalny, taken in 2019, during a demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in London on Friday, following the death of the Russian opponent.

Magdaline Boutros

February 16, 2024

  • Europe

“I can’t stop crying,” Olga slips. A few hours earlier, this Moscow resident learned of the death, which occurred on Friday, of Russian opponent Alexeï Navalny, who was serving a 19-year prison sentence for “extremism” in a penal colony in the Arctic. “He was our hope. He told us not to be afraid and to be strong. And we tried to be strong. »

Many Western leaders have directly blamed Moscow for the death of Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic, a month before Russian presidential elections. For Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Navalny's death “reminds the whole world what a monster Putin is” and “how determined [he] is to repress anyone who fights for his freedom.”

“Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” criticized US President Joe Biden. “In today's Russia, we put free spirits in the gulag and condemn them to death,” denounced French President Emmanuel Macron on the social network X (formerly Twitter).

Even if we do not know the exact cause of Navalny's death, the Kremlin is undoubtedly responsible for this tragedy, analyzes Russian political scientist Vera Grantseva, professor at Sciences Po Paris and former relations expert international at the town hall of Saint Petersburg.

“The Putin regime knowingly and deliberately imprisoned an innocent person, a political opponent, whose only ‘problem’ was that he opposed the Kremlin,” she points out.

Arrested and imprisoned many times, Navalny – who denounced the corruption of the Putin regime – survived an assassination attempt in 2020 by poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok. After convalescing for several months in Germany, he returned to Russia, where he was arrested and sent to a labor camp.

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“He was a very courageous person,” says Ms. Grantseva. For his political project, for the idea in which he believed, that is to say democracy for Russia, he was ready to take these risks. »Her commitment is in line with historical figures like Nelson Mandela or Gandhi who, after spending several years in prison, managed to overthrow political regimes, she mentions.

Spectacular deaths

His death at age 47, however, is a reminder that “there is less and less hope that non-violent political changes [will take place] in Russia.” The repression blocks any possibility of protest and political opponents have either been imprisoned, killed or forced into exile. The Putin regime has entered an even tougher phase, believes the political scientist. “He can’t stop on his own. »

Among the most spectacular deaths that have occurred since Vladimir Putin came to power is the death of the head of the Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who died last August in a plane crash,< b> two months after he publicly defied President Putin. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov, also an opponent of Putin, was shot dead near Red Square in Moscow. In 2006, investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was killed in front of her home. As for Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian secret service agent who became a critic of Putin, he was poisoned in 2006 in London by green tea containing a radioactive compound, the isotope polonium-210.

Over the past two years, several oligarchs who publicly opposed the war in Ukraine have also died in suspicious circumstances. Among them, Aleksandr Tyulyakov, a deputy general director at Gazprom, who was found dead with a suicide note near him, Aleksandr Subbotin, a member of the board of directors of Lukoil, who died following a poisoning during a shamanic ritual, and Ravil Maganov, one of the founders of Lukoil, who threw himself out of a hospital window.

Other opponents have also been imprisoned, including Vladimir Kara-Mourza, who is serving a 25-year sentence and was poisoned twice.

Alarm clock ?

The streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where Navalny was a well-known figure, remained calm on Friday. A few people went out to lay flowers in memory of the country's best-known opponent. But the authorities had warned the population against any demonstration. Associated Press photos show at least one person was arrested in St. Petersburg. According to Vera Grantseva, the regime could be tempted to toughen up the repression for fear that Navalny's death will arouse the ardor of the Russians. “It’s a police state,” she recalls. Every expression of a political idea can end in prison and death. »

In Munich, Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said, holding back tears, that “I would like Putin, all his staff, all his entourage, all his government, his friends, to know that they will be punished for what 'they did to our country, to my family and to my husband.'

According to the independent newspaper Novaïa Gazeta , Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, said on Facebook that she saw her son on February 12, four days before his death, in the penal colony and that he was “in good health and in a cheerful mood” at the time. The day before his death, Navalny had participated by videoconference in two hearings before a court in the Vladimir region, reported his lawyer of German origin, Nikolaos Gazeas. Navalny had not complained of health problems and had expressed himself “actively”, he testified to the German daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.

For their part, Russian authorities limited themselves to stating that Navalny “felt unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness.” According to the Russian prison administration in the Arctic region of Yamal, “all necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, but did not give a positive result.” The causes of his death “are being established.”

While traveling in the Urals, President Putin – who could theoretically remain in power until 2036 – did not comment on the death of his rival.

Even though repression is omnipresent, Olga decided to publish, on Friday, on her Facebook account the words spoken by the deceased in the documentary Navalny, directed by Daniel Roher, which won an Oscar in 2023. “Don’t give up,” said the opponent. If that happens [and I die], that means we are extremely strong at this point since they decided to kill me. Remember that we are a huge force living under the oppression of these people, only because we don't realize how strong we really are. »

Words that Olga promises today to remember and honor.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116