‘Serious questions’ for Russia: World leaders react with horror to reports of Putin critic Navalny’s death

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a rally in support of political prisoners on Prospekt Sakharova Street in Moscow, Russia on September 29, 2019.

Sefa Karacan | Anadolu | Getty Images

World leaders reacted Friday with dismay and suspicion to reports of the death of prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a Siberian penal colony.

Russian media reported, citing the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region, where Navalny was serving a lengthy sentence on charges widely seen as politically motivated, that he fell ill and collapsed after a walk.

Navalny’s team said it had yet to receive confirmation of the death and disputed the accuracy of the announcement.

US Vice President Kamala Harris told the Munich Security Conference on Friday that Washington was working to confirm the “terrible” news.

“Whatever story they’re telling, let’s be clear, Russia is responsible and we’ll have more to say about that later,” he added.

Russia’s foreign ministry said the response to Navalny’s reported death by Western leaders is “self-exposed” at a time when there is still no forensic examination.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply saddened and concerned” by reports of Navalny’s death.

“All facts must be proven and Russia has serious questions to answer,” he told reporters.

“Alexei Navalny has been a strong voice for freedom, for democracy, for many years, and NATO and NATO allies have been calling for his immediate release for a long time.”

Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny appears on a screen via video link from the IK-6 penal colony in the Vladimir region, during a hearing to consider his appeal against his sentence in the criminal case on several charges, including creating of an extremist organization, in Moscow, Russia September 26, 2023.

Julia Morozoops | Reuters

Cremin’s critic appeared in court via video link earlier in the week, apparently in good health and spirits despite the notoriously brutal conditions at the penal colony where the 47-year-old has been held for 19 years.

However, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Friday that he “felt unwell after a ride, almost immediately passed out.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “deeply disturbed and saddened” by the news of his death.

“Putin fears nothing more than dissent from his own people. A grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are. Let us unite in our fight to protect the freedom and safety of those who dare to stand up to totalitarianism,” von der Leyen said.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said that if confirmed, Navalny’s death highlighted the “weakness and rot” of the Russian political system built by President Vladimir Putin and laid the blame at the Kremlin’s door.

“We will speak to many other countries that are concerned about Alexei Navalny, especially if these reports turn out to be true.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a post on the social networking platform X that “as the staunchest supporter of Russian democracy, Alexei Navalny has shown incredible courage throughout his life.”

“My thoughts are with his wife and the people of Russia, for whom this is a huge tragedy,” he added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was “deeply saddened” by the news and that if confirmed, Navalny’s death is a “terrible” sign of how Russia has changed as a country in recent years.

Navalny “stood up for democracy and freedom in Russia – and apparently paid for his courage with his life. This terrible news shows once again how Russia has changed and what kind of regime is in power in Moscow,” he said in a post on X.

Former CIA director David Petraeus: I was surprised Alexei Navalny lived as long as he did

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said on social media that Navalny “paid with his life for his resistance to a system of oppression,” according to a translation.

“His death in a penal colony reminds us of the reality of Vladimir Putin’s regime,” he added. “To his family, his loved ones and the Russian people, France expresses its condolences.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the announcement was “terrible news”, adding that “the cruelty against Navalny shows again why it is necessary to continue to fight against authoritarianism”.

Russia: “Self-exposed” NATO accusations

Seven members of the Russian government were sanctioned by the US in early 2021 over what was independently confirmed to be the Novichok nerve agent poisoning of Navalny in August 2020.

Navalny narrowly survived and was flown to Germany, but was arrested in January 2021 shortly after arriving in Russia, sparking an international outcry.

In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said via X that “the immediate reaction of NATO leaders to the news of Alexei Navalny’s death in the form of direct accusations against Russia is self-explanatory.”

He added, “There is no forensic evidence available, yet the West has already expressed its ‘conclusions’.”

Read the original at Defence247.gr

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