Putin’s murder of Alexei Navalny shows he’s more powerful than ever – and the ‘naive’ West is next on his hit list

Putin’s murder of Alexei Navalny shows he’s more powerful than ever – and the ‘naive’ West is next on his hit list

VLADIMIR Putin’s greatest foe has forever been silenced – and now the tyrant stands stronger than ever, experts have warned.

Alexei Navalny, 47, died in prison on Friday and analysts see it as a direct threat to not only to Russian opposition, but to the “naive” West which is next on Putin’s hit list.

ReutersDefiant Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison[/caption]

Putin was seen smirking just hours after Navalny’s death

Navalny staged huge anti-Kremlin protests, was frequently imprisoned and claimed to have survived multiple assassination attemptsAP

Reaching the apex of his political career, he was thrown into prison in 2020

APA woman leaves flowers at a memorial for Navalny outside the Russian consulate in Montreal[/caption]

Activist and opposition leader Navalny reportedly died inside a hellish Siberian penal colony close to the Arctic circle – only a day after appearing on a video link looking weak but defiant.

His death draws to a close a lifetime spent campaigning to free Russia from grip of the Kremlin, which he accused of being an oppressive and corrupt regime run by “crooks and thieves”.

Navalny’s supporters are now blasting his death as “political murder” and a “historic” and “monstrous” crime – while world leaders accused the Russian leader of ordering his death.

Oleksandr Danylyuk, a Russia expert at RUSI and former chief military adviser in Ukraine, said his 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,” he told The Sun.

“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.”

If Putin killed Navanly it was “not very smart of him,” Danylyuk said, but “he would have done it because he could”.

Navaly’s sudden death in his icy “Polar Wolf” jail came 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 without having to fret over Russia’s most prominent political prisoner.

The smiling despot appeared sickeningly cheerful as he greeted people at an event mere hours after news of Navalny’s death broke.

Keir Giles, a senior fellow 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.”

Callum Fraser, a research fellow at RUSI, agreed that Putin is sure to feel more secure in his power with Navalny gone.

He believes the timing could be down to the impending election, but also perhaps it was just the “opportune moment”.

“It is very difficult to say at this stage,” he told The Sun.

“Navalny has been living in awful conditions since his return to Russia, his health will have been significantly affected by his treatment.

“It is not a shock that someone in this condition passes away suddenly.”

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

He added: “Regardless of whether he was killed directly or indirectly by the state, the conditions that led to his death are on the hands of the state.

“Symbolically Putin has bested his most pertinent opponent. Putin will certainly understand the risk that Navalny placed upon him.

“With the removal of the symbolic leader of Russian resistance, Putin should feel more secure in his position, despite any extreme need to worry.”

Navalny was the “embodiment of Russia’s push for an alternative to Putin”, Callum said.

“With Navalny’s passing, there is no direct replacement,” he added.

And overnight, thousands of protesters swarmed Russian embassies to express their outrage over his death.

Many chanted slogans critical of Putin – holding up signs calling him a “killer” and demanding accountability.

In Russia, cops detained more than 100 people who set up memorials for Navalny.

“There will likely be small protests [in Russia], but the state is very well-prepared to deal with any insurrection,” Callum said.

“Expect small pockets of protesting but no galvanisation of a large-scale movement.”

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

Navalny was fearless in his pursuit of justice

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

What’s next for Putin’s opposition?

Dr Stepan Stepanenko, head of the Forward Strategy foreign policy think-tank, said without Navalny, Russia’s opposition movement has been hollowed out.

He dubbed his death a “double-edged sword for the opposition”.

“Opposition channels roaring with gung-ho attitude of let’s go after them – they are galvanising, but there is no one to replace him,” he told The Sun.

“He was the only person who was seen as a possible next president among the democratic community – so we have a vacuum without a clear visionary like Navalny.

“He was never a threat to the election per say but he was a threat in Putin’s circle, he was jailed, yes, but inside Russia and could have been someone people continued to rally around.”

In terms of Putin, “he rose up through the backstages of St Petersburg in the crime-ridden 90s Russia all the way to the top of Moscow“, Dr Stepanenko said.

“He is loyal to the thieves code, where you have to go by your word, and you have to be perceived as strongman,” he said.

“He must maintain this code and be seen as the strongest man in Russia to maintain his authority.”

All of this, Dr Stepanenko said, would have been a “factor” in deciding the fate befell to Putin’s most steadfast critic.

The fact remains that all, without exception, who take a swing at power in Russia will be immediately killed

Igor Shchebetun

And now it is likely Putin wanted to leave his other prominent critics trembling during a period of intense repression as Moscow’s war in Ukraine nears its two-year anniversary.

Security expert Igor Shchebetun, from ITSS Verona, said Navalny’s death “will strengthen the fear of any opposition to oppose Putin”.

“This is just another confirmation of the fact that Russia is a brutal dictatorship with the mask of a supposedly civilized state,” he told The Sun.

“The fact remains that all, without exception, who will take a swing at power in Russia will be immediately killed.

“The list of political assassinations is quite long and it is a normal way for Russia to hold on to power.

“No civilized country on the European continent can even imagine such a number of murders for political reasons in modern realities.

“The only deterrent to not completely destroy the entire opposition is the reaction of the West.”

Navalny’s death comes just months after Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin died in a fiery jet crash – with his killing allegedly ordered by Putin’s top crony who had a bomb planted on his plane.

It came after his failed coup attempt in Moscow, where his rebel army marched on the Kremlin.

Igor, a former lieutenant in Ukraine‘s army reserves, said: “Navalny’s death is just another episode of political assassinations by the current Kremlin authorities.

“Anna Politkovskaya, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Boris Nemtsov, Sergei Magnitsky, Alexander Litvinenok, and so on.

“Without exception, all oppositionists have been killed and severely punished at all times during the existence of Russia.”

Referring to Navalny, he said: “It was murder without a doubt.”

Bill Browder, political activist and Putin enemy, said Navalny’s death signals that it’s now “open season on all other [Russian dissidents].”

With the removal of the symbolic leader of Russian resistance, Putin should feel more secure in his position, despite any extreme need to worry

Callum Fraser

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.”

James Rodgers, a lecturer at City University and the BBC‘s former Moscow correspondent said Navalny’s death serves as a reminder of how “impossible” it is to oppose Putin “these days”.

He told The Sun: “The lesson that lots of people are gonna take from this is, if you try to stand up against the Kremlin in the current climate, things are gonna go very, very badly for you.

“I think Putin’s position looks pretty secure. At this stage it’s going to be a reminder of how very, very, very difficult it is to at least publicly oppose Vladimir Putin.”

“The wider implications of his death are the fact that it is almost impossible to be a public member of the political opposition in Russian these days.

“He was the most high profile critic of the Kremlin… [and] he has paid with his life.”

The world will now wait to see how the West responds to yet another political murder on Russian soil.

ReutersYulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, bravely spoke at the Munich Security Conference as her husband’s death was announced[/caption]

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