How brave Alexei Navalny went from small-town lawyer to the face of freedom in Russia…before paying the ultimate price

How brave Alexei Navalny went from small-town lawyer to the face of freedom in Russia…before paying the ultimate price

PUTIN’S most feared opponent who the despot locked up – after all but certainly trying to poison – has died.

Activist and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, 47, spent his final years suffering inside a hellhole Arctic prison – paying the ultimate price for daring to take on the Kremlin boss.

APAlexi Navalny died today inside an Arctic penal colony where he was serving a three decade sentence[/caption]

ReutersHe began as a small-town lawyer who hated the corruption that infected Russia[/caption]

EPANavalny staged huge anti-Kremlin protests, frequently was imprisoned and claims to have survived multiple assassination attempts[/caption]

ReutersReaching the apex of his political career, he was thrown into prison in 2020[/caption]

Navalny, Putin’s most visible and longstanding critic, had been locked up for three decades last August on trumped up charges of treason and extremism – charges he always denied.

He did not expect to be released during Putin’s lifetime. But it would turn out he would never manage to survive that long.

Today, he felt unwell after a walk, according to the Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, and lost consciousness.

An ambulance arrived to try to revive him, but he died. It said the cause of death was “being established”.

His supporters are now blasting his death as a “political murder” and a “historic and monstrous crime”.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky raged: “Obviously, Putin killed him”.

Latvian president Edgars Rinkevics declared it a “fact” that Navalny was “brutally murdered by the Kremlin”.

His death comes only weeks before Putin is almost certain to win a fifth term as president that would secure his brutal reign over Russia until at least 2030.

Now, he will head into those rubber-stamp elections with Russia’s most prominent political prisoner forever silenced.

Keir Giles, a Russia expert from Chatham House, told The Sun: “Nobody should have been surprised by this, least of all Navalny himself.

“Russia is back in its historical comfort zone of murdering opponents at home and abroad without qualms and without a care for international condemnation.”

What we know so far…

Officials at the ‘Polar Wolf’ jail where Navalny was held claim he collapsed during a walk outside and died today

Ukraine’s Zelensky and Latvian president Rinkevics claim Putin murdered the Kremlin critic

The dad-of-two, aged just 47, had sent his wife a heartfelt Valentine’s letter days before his reported death

His mum Lyudmila said she saw Navalny a few days ago and he seemed healthy and cheerful

Navalny was last pictured yesterday appearing in court via video link – he looked thin and had a shaved head

The Kremlin enemy had spent 308 days locked up in Russia on trumped-up charges – including for extremism and terrorism

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Putin should be ‘held accountable’

Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said she has had no official confirmation of his death – but a lawyer is investigating

Ambitious, stubborn and a fierce believer in freedom, Navalny spent his life launching a crusade against the corruption and deceit he saw infecting Russian politics.

Beginning as a small-town lawyer, Navalny rose to prominence with blogs which exposed what he said was vast corruption across the Russian elite, describing Russia as ruled by “crooks and thieves”.

He founded an anti-corruption project that analysed spending of state agencies and companies and exposed violations.

He would later go on to buy stakes in oligarchs’ businesses to push for transparency, grow his national reputation as a purveyor of justice and run for the mayor of Moscow.

“Why should I be afraid?” he said in 2011 when asked about the dangers of challenging the Kremlin.

In Putin’s Russia, political opponents often fade, hiding in exile after jail time, suspected poisonings or other heavy repression.

But Navalny grew consistently stronger, reaching the apex of the opposition through grit, bravado and an acute understanding of how social media could circumvent the Kremlin’s suffocation of independent news outlets.

He staged frequent anti-Kremlin protests – many of the largest in recent Russian history – before finally running for president in 2018.

Navalny faced each setback – attacks, assassination attempts, imprisonments – head-on, confronting all possible dangers with humour, wit and bravery.

He often tweeted sarcastic remarks from police custody or courtrooms on the many occasions he was arrested.

But Putin’s cronies would not allow that to go unchallenged.

In 2017, an assailant threw green disinfectant in his face, damaging one of his eyes. Navalny did not complain, but jokingly referred to himself as the Hulk.

In 2020, Navalny fell ill during a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, where he was organising opposition candidates. 

He spent two weeks in a medically-induced coma after being poisoned with the Soviet-made nerve agent, Novichok.

The Kremlin rejected it was behind the poisoning, but Navalny and his German doctors challenged that denial.

Russian authorities then raised the stakes, announcing that during his time in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended sentence in one of his embezzlement convictions and that he would be arrested if he returned home.

But remaining abroad wasn’t in his nature. 

Once he had recovered, he returned to Russia just to be locked up for two and a half years almost immediately in what human rights groups slammed as “politically motivated”.

The events sparked massive protests that reached to Russia’s furthest corners and saw more than 10,000 people detained by police.

As part of a massive crackdown against the opposition that followed, a Moscow court in 2021 outlawed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and about 40 regional offices as extremist.

Life of Alexei Navalny

PUTIN’S best known opponent Alexei Navalny, 47, has died in prison.

Here is a timeline that took the leader of the opposition from the face of freedom in Russia and the Kremlin’s biggest foe to a hellhole Siberian prison and onto an early grave.

June 4, 1976 — Navalny is born in a western part of the Moscow region

1997 — Graduates from Russia’s RUDN university, where he majored in law

2004 — Forms a movement against rampant over-development in Moscow

2008 — Gains notoriety for calling out corruption in state-run corporation

December 2011 — Participates in mass protests sparked by reports of widespread rigging of Russia’s election, and is arrested and jailed for 15 days for “defying a government official”

March 2012 – Further mass protests break out and Navalny accuses key Kremlin cronies of corruption

July 2012 — Russia’s Investigative Committee charges Navalny with embezzlement. He rejects the claims and says they are politically motivated

2013 — Navalny runs for mayor in Moscow

July 2013 — A court in Kirov convicts Navalny of embezzlement in the Kirovles case, sentencing him to five years in prison – he appeals and is allowed to continue campaign

September 2013 — Official results show Navalny finishes second in the mayor’s race

February 2014 — Navalny is placed under house arrest 

December 2014 — Navalny and his brother, Oleg, are found guilty of fraud 

February 2016 — The European Court of Human Rights rules that Russia violated Navalny’s right to a fair trial

November 2016 — Russia’s Supreme Court overturns Navalny’s sentence

December 2016 — Navalny announces he will run in Russia’s 2018 presidential election

February 2017 — The Kirov court retries Navalny and upholds his five-year suspended sentence from 2013

April 2017 – Survives an assassination attempt he blames on Kremlin

December 2017 — Russia’s Central Electoral Commission bars him from running for president 

August, 2020 – Navalny falls into a coma on a flight and his team suspects he was poisoned. German authorities confirm he was poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

Jan 2021 — After five months in Germany, Navalny is arrested upon his return to Russia

Feb 2021 — A Moscow court orders Navalny to serve 2 ½ years in prison

June 2021 — A Moscow court shuts down Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his extended political network

Feb 2022 — Russia invades Ukraine

March 2022 — Navalny is sentenced to an additional nine-year term for embezzlement and contempt of court

2023 — Over 400 Russian doctors sign an open letter to Putin, urging an end to what it calls abuse of Navalny, following reports that he was denied basic medication & suffering from slow poisoning

April, 2023 — Navalny from inside prison says he was facing new extremism and terrorism charges that could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life

Aug 2023 – A court in Russia extends Navalny’s prison sentence by 19 years

Dec 2023 – He disappears from his prison as his team fear he could be assassination. He then reappears weeks later in one of Siberia’s toughest prisons – the ‘Polar Wolf’ colony

After Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Navalny loudly opposed the war in prison and during his court appearances.

Less than a month after the start of the war, he was sentenced to an additional nine-year term for embezzlement and contempt of court – charges him and his supporters rejected as fabricated.

Hellbent on throwing away the key, Moscow sentenced him to 19 years in August 2023 over trumped up charges of treason and Navalny found himself inside the toughest prison Russia could offer.

In December, he dramatically disappeared from his Siberian penal colony just to appear weeks later in an even harsher prison, known as “Polar Wolf” just 25 miles from the Arctic Circle.

He was weak, suffering serious health problems and being denied basic health care, his team had claimed.

Navalny was seen for the last time yesterday in court – via video link.

His head was shaved and he looked thin – but true to his style, he appeared positive and even managed some jokes.

Navalny had sent a Valentine’s message to his wife Yulia, 47, just days ago from inside the Siberian prison.

The heartfelt letter read: “Baby, everything is like in a song with you: between us there are cities, the take-off lights of airfields, blue snowstorms and thousands of kilometres.

“But I feel that you are near every second, and I love you more and more.”

The pair share two children, a daughter Daria and son Zakhar.

APWorld leaders have accused Putin of being behind the murder of his fiercest critic[/caption]

The last picture of Navalny behind bars in Russia – appearing via video link in court yesterday

APOn Valentine’s Day, Navalny wrote a heartbreaking letter to his wife Yuhlia, saying ‘everything is like in a song with you’[/caption]

ReutersThe father-of-two allegedly collapsed today while on a walk[/caption]

What now?

Discussing his possible death previously, Navalny told CNN: “If they decide to kill me then it means we are incredibly strong and we need to use that power and not give up.”

But Bill Browder, political activist and Putin enemy, believes his death signals that its “open season on all other [Russian dissidents].”

He said: “I think Putin wanted to make it clear that nobody opposes him. You know, full stop.”

“When a person who exposes corruption ends up in prison and ends up dead, this is clearly an assassination.

“It means that if they’re ready to kill the most prominent, most well-known dissident, who basically won an Academy Award, it means that it’s open season on all other dissidents.”

Oleksandr Danylyuk, a Russia expert from RUSI, agreed that Navalny’s death sends a “very strong message”.

“This is a very strong message to all of those naive Western politicians and experts that believe that peaceful coexistence is possible with Putin’s Russia.

“It’s absolutely clear that if Putin is killing opposition leaders who have never been any kind of real threat to his authoritarian regime, you can imagine what kind of plans he has against the West.”

On what happens next, Danylyuk does not believe it will trigger major protests owing to extent that Putin has oppressed society in recent years.

Nor does he believe that Putin – if behind Navalny’s death – fears repercussions or international condemnation.

“Putin is not looking for any sort of peaceful relations, the plan is all about controlling power inside the country and having no opposition inside of Russia.”

To kill Navalny was “not very smart of him,” he said, but “Putin would of done it because he could.”

‘Historic crime’

Former Director of the CIA David Petraeus told Times Radio the news is a “tragedy” and described him as “the most courageous, most significant opponent of Vladimir Putin”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it “terrible news”. Navalny, he said, “the fiercest advocate for Russian democracy, who demonstrated incredible courage throughout his life.”

UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said: “Putin should be accountable for what has happened – no one should doubt the dreadful nature of his regime.”

Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide, said: “We have no reason to believe state propaganda. If this is true, then it is not ‘Navalny died’, but ‘Putin killed Navalny’ and only that. But I don’t trust them one penny.”

Two brave Russians, human rights activist Lev Shlosberg and investigative journalist Andrey Zakharov, both said today he was killed by the mad despot.

Zakharov raged: “Navalny did not die, he was killed….And they are killing the dream of millions of people to live in a normal country.”

“I won’t be silenced,” he said. “This is a historic crime,” he added.

Lev Shlosberg said: “The death of Alexei Navalny is a planned political murder.”

And exiled Russian politician Dmitry Gudkov has fumed that even if Putin did not have Navalny assassinated – his death would still be the tyrant’s fault.

“Even if Alexey died from “natural” causes, they were caused by his poisoning and further prison torture. 

“Blood is on Putin,” he fumed.

Gudkov also warned that Navalny’s alleged death sets a dangerous precedent for prisoners who oppose Putin to suffer a “death penalty” at the hands of his “henchmen”.

Navalny was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in August 2020, which he claimed was a Kremlin assassination attempt

APIn August 2023, Navalny had his existing jail term extended to 19 years[/caption]

Navalny with his wife Yulia – with whom he shares two children

Protesters gathered in December after his weeks-long disappearance from his prison cell

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