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Russia Detains Scores at Floral Tributes to Opposition Leader Navalny

Written by on February 17, 2024

More than 100 people have been detained across Russia after venturing to lay flowers at floral tributes to opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to an Associated Press report Saturday. The flower memorials were later removed by workers supervised by police, the news agency said.

OVD-Info, a Russian human rights group, said in a statement that Navalny had been transferred to “one of Russia’s harshest prisons located beyond the Arctic Circle.”

“During 37 months of detention, Navalny spent 296 days in a brutal punishment cell,” the statement said. “In such conditions, there was no need to poison or kill through violent means — they simply had to wait.”

U.S. President Joe Biden reacted Friday to the news of Navalny’s death, by directly blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin and using the death to scold the U.S. House of Representatives for holding up funding for Ukraine.

Russian prison officials say Navalny, a fierce foe of the Russian president, died in the Russian Arctic labor camp where he was imprisoned. The official statement has not been independently confirmed.

Russian media quoted officials of the Federal Prison Service saying medical staff had been called but were unable to resuscitate the 47-year-old Navalny.

In a statement in the Oval Office at the White House, Biden praised Navalny for his courage in continually standing up to Putin, even after he was poisoned, treated overseas and then imprisoned when he returned to Russia.

“He could have lived safely in exile,” following an assassination attempt in 2020, Biden said. “Instead, he returned to Russia knowing he’d likely be imprisoned, or even killed, if he continued his work. But he did it anyway. Because he believed so deeply in his country.”

Biden said Russian officials will tell their own story, but said, “Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.”

He said Navalny’s death is a reminder of the stakes of this moment and once again appealed to the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on the bipartisan aid package approved this week by the U.S Senate. Biden said “history is watching” the House of Representatives.

“The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten,” he said.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking Friday at the Munich Security Conference, also blamed Putin for Navalny’s death.

“This would be a further sign of Putin’s brutality,” she said. “Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement Friday that Putin is “a vicious dictator” and that if Navalny’s death is confirmed, “this action is emblematic of Putin’s global pattern of silencing critics and eliminating opponents out of fear of dissent.”

He called for opposition against Russia but did not specifically address military aid to Ukraine.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told VOA’s Russian Service on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference that Navalny’s death “is a horrible tragedy, and his imprisonment was also a horrible tragedy.”

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and lost consciousness. It said his cause of death is “being established.”

Konstantin Boikov, a psychiatrist and human rights activist, told VOA’s Russia Service that Navalny appeared to be healthy before his death.

“We are looking at a young man, slender, who doesn’t have a history of heart conditions,” he said.

Navalny was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism. He was moved from his former prison in the Vladimir region of central Russia to a maximum-security penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region, about 1,900 kilometers (1,180 miles) northeast of Moscow, above the Arctic Circle.

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny appears on a video link from prison provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service at Moscow City Court, May 24, 2022.
FILE – Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny appears on a video link from prison provided by the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service at Moscow City Court, May 24, 2022.

In a post on the social media platform X shortly after the announcement, Navalny’s chief of staff, Leonid Volkov, and his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, wrote they had no confirmation of his death. The post said Navalny’s lawyer was on his way to Kharp and promised a report as soon as they received information.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, told the Munich Security Conference Friday that if the news of Navalny’s death is true, “I want Putin, his entire entourage, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family, to my husband.”

She said she considered canceling her appearance at the conference, “but then I thought what Alexey would do in my place. And I’m sure he would be here.”

Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he received three prison sentences, all of which he rejected as politically motivated.

Natan Sharansky, a Soviet dissident and later Israeli politician, told VOA’s Russian Service, “Navalny has probably done more than anyone else in the world to expose the methods the [Russian] regime uses to deal with dissidents.”

Sharansky said that he experienced torture when he was imprisoned in Russia during the 1970s and 1980s but that the authorities were not trying to kill him.

“They wanted to fight me! But back then the international opinion was still somewhat important to them. … Today Putin has nothing to lose, so he can afford to kill off his opponents,” Sharansky said.

Praise for Navalny’s bravery poured in from Western leaders and others who have opposed Putin’s leadership. The opposition leader’s health had deteriorated recently, and the cause of death remains unknown, but many world leaders said they held Russian authorities ultimately responsible for his death.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Navalny has been a strong voice for freedom and democracy for many years. He said NATO and NATO allies have long called for his release.

Stoltenberg said all the facts must be established and Russia has serious questions to answer.

During a joint news conference in Berlin alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was typically blunt when reacting to the reports of Navalny’s death.

“Obviously he was killed by Putin,” Zelenskyy said. “Like thousands of others who have been tortured, tortured because of this one creature. Putin doesn’t care who dies.”

Zelenskyy said Putin must lose everything and be held accountable for his actions.

Scholz said Navalny “has probably now paid for this courage with his life.”

In Britain, the government said it was summoning the Russian Embassy to make clear that it held Russian officials “fully responsible” for Navalny’s death.

Sergey Lagodinsky, a German lawyer and politician of the Alliance 90/The Greens party, argued that “the international community hasn’t done all it could have to save Navalny’s life.”

Speaking to VOA’s Russian Service, he said, “I think we all knew that it was very likely, the end of this torture [of Navalny] would be quite sad.”

VOA’s Russian Service contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.


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