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Putin critic dies in Russian prison

Putin critic dies in Russian prison

Leonid Sobolev, a member of Navalny’s legal team, told independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta that the activist last saw a lawyer on Wednesday. “Everything was fine then,” Sobolev said.

Western leaders were quick to suggest that Navalny’s death was caused by the Russian government, with Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron saying Putin should be accountable for what had happened.

Alexei Navalny was arguably Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic.

Alexei Navalny was arguably Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic.Credit: AP

“No one should doubt the dreadful nature of his regime,” he said. “Putin’s Russia fabricated charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to an arctic penal colony and now he has tragically died.”

Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said that if reports of the death were accurate, they “only underscore Russia’s weakness and rot”.

European Council president Charles Michel said Navalny “made the ultimate sacrifice” and that “the EU holds the Russian regime solely responsible for this tragic death”, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his death was a “terrible” sign of how Russia had changed.

Putin, who appeared on state television on Friday morning talking to students and workers at a factory in the Chelyabinsk region of the Ural mountains, has yet to comment, although his spokesman said he had been informed.

Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, lambasted the international outcry.
“The immediate reaction of the leaders of Nato countries to the death of Navalny in the form of accusations towards Russia is self-incriminating,” she said.

“There are no medical test results yet, and the West is already making conclusions.”

Serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, he was moved in December from his former prison in the Vladimir region of central Russia to a “special regime” penal colony – the highest security level of prisons in Russia – above the Arctic Circle.

His allies decried the transfer to a colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1900 kilometres north-east of Moscow in yet another attempt to force Navalny into silence. The remote region is notorious for long and severe winters. Kharp is about 100 kilometres from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were part of the Soviet gulag prison-camp system.

The prison in the town of Kharp in the Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia, some 1900km from Moscow.

The prison in the town of Kharp in the Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia, some 1900km from Moscow.Credit: AP

Navalny had continued to exchange regular messages with supporters through letters despite his sentence and he continued to regularly speak out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin had attempted to cut Navalny off even further by arresting several of his lawyers last year on charges of being part of an “extremist group,” which carry a sentence of up to six years in prison.

It also repeatedly punished him by holding him in solitary confinement on 27 separate occasions, most recently from Wednesday.

Navalny this week had posted on social media a message to his wife, Yulia: “Baby, I know that everything with you is like in the song – there are cities between us, airport landing lights, blue snowstorms and thousands of kilometres. But I feel you by my side every second and I love you all the more.”


Navalny’s popularity increased after the leading charismatic politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot and killed in 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin.

Whenever Putin spoke about Navalny, he made it a point to never mention the activist by name, referring to him as “that person” or similar wording, in an apparent effort to diminish his importance.

Bill Browder, an American-born British financier and Putin critic, said it was likely the Kremlin would attempt to cover up the circumstances of Navalny’s death.

“Navalny was fine yesterday,” Browder, who led the Magnitsky global sanctions campaign against Russian official told The Times. “We should expect a full Magnitsky-style cover-up from the Russian government in short order.

“I can almost predict the language they will use – ‘natural causes’, ‘no sign of violence’, ‘unexpected death’ etc.”

With agencies

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