Alexei Navalny’s widow vows to continue his fight against Kremlin

The widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has vowed to continue his fight against the Kremlin, while authorities denied his mother access to a mortuary where his body is believed to be held after his death last week in an Arctic penal colony.

With her voice cracking at times in a video posted on social media, Yulia Navalnaya accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of killing her husband in the remote prison and alleged that officials’ refusal to hand over the body to her mother-in-law was part of a cover-up.

Russian authorities said that the cause of Mr Navalny’s death on Friday aged 47 is still unknown – and the results of any investigation are likely to be questioned abroad.

Many Western leaders have already said they hold Mr Putin responsible for the death.

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Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)

It dealt a devastating blow to many Russians, who had seen Mr Navalny as a rare hope for political change amid Mr Putin’s unrelenting crackdown on the opposition.

Mr Navalny had been imprisoned since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

He received three prison terms since his arrest, on a number of charges he had rejected as politically motivated.

“They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably while waiting for the trace of” poison to disappear, Ms Navalnaya said, suggesting her husband might have been killed with a Novichok-style nerve agent.

She urged Russians to rally behind her “to share not only the grief and endless pain that has enveloped and gripped us, but also my rage”.

Ms Navalnaya continued: “The main thing that we can do for Alexei and ourselves is to keep fighting. … We all need to get together in one strong fist and strike that mad regime.”

On Monday, Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said Mr Navalny’s body would not be given to his mother for 14 days while a chemical examination of it takes place, according to a Russian investigator.

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The town of Kharp in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region of Russia, the location of the penal colony in which Alexei Navalny died (AP)

“They lie, buy time for themselves and do not even hide it,” Ms Yarmysh posted on X, formerly Twitter.

With authorities offering no more information on the death after the brief initial statement, many Russians speculated about what might have happened to Mr Navalny.

Independent Russian outlets released reports attempting to shed light on his death.

Some called into question the official narrative – but their reports were not possible to verify.

In Brussels on Monday, Mr Navalny’s widow met European Union foreign ministers and other officials.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was mulling sanctions against Russia and he also called for an independent international investigation into the causes of Mr Navalny’s death.

He said responsibility for Mr Navalny’s death lies with “Putin himself, but we can go down to the institutional structure of the penitentiary system in Russia”, to impose asset freezes and travel bans.

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A woman lays flowers to pay last respects to Alexei Navalny at a monument near the Federal Security Service (FSB) building in Moscow (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski described Ms Navalnaya as “very dignified, very composed”, and urged his EU counterparts to act on Ms Navalnaya’s request that the bloc impose sanctions on more of Mr Putin’s backers, beyond the oligarchs and other senior Russian officials already being targeted.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the accusations from Western leaders as “boorish” and “inadmissible”.

“Those statements can’t do any harm to the head of our state, but they certainly aren’t becoming for those who make them,” Mr Peskov said in a call with reporters.

Ms Yarmysh said that Mr Navalny’s 69-year-old mother and his lawyers were not allowed into the mortuary in Salekhard, the capital of the Arctic Yamalo-Nenets region, on Monday morning.

The staff did not answer when they asked if the body was there, Ms Yarmysh said.

Asked when Mr Navalny’s body could be handed over to his family, Mr Peskov responded that the Kremlin was not involved in those proceedings, adding that the official probe was continuing in line with the law.

Observers said that the law allows authorities to keep the body for a long time if the investigation is ongoing and block any requests for an independent forensic study.

A municipal worker, on orders from the authorities, removes flowers brought by people to pay respect to Alexei Navalny from the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg, Russia
A municipal worker, on orders from the authorities, removes flowers brought by people to pay respects to Alexei Navalny from the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg, Russia (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

“It’s clear what they are doing now – covering up the traces of their crime,” he wrote on Monday.

Since Mr Navalny’s death, nearly 400 people have been detained by police in Russia as they streamed to ad-hoc memorials and monuments to victims of political repression with flowers and candles to pay tribute to Mr Navalny, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests.

The US and British ambassadors also mourned Mr Navalny’s death at a memorial in Moscow.

Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials across the country and were removing flowers at night, but they kept appearing.

More than 50,000 people have submitted requests to the Russian government asking for Mr Navalny’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Mr Navalny felt sick after a walk on Friday and became unconscious at the penal colony where he was being held.

An ambulance arrived, but he could not be revived, the service said.

Youths lay flowers to pay last respects to Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia
Youths lay flowers in Moscow, Russia (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

In her video statement, Ms Navalnaya said: “By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul.”

“But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up. I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny,” she declared.

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