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Alexei Navalny: Putin Critic Dies in Prison Now the West Must Learn its Lesson

Updated: May 23

On Friday the 19th of February, Alexei Navalny died in a Russian penal colony. As per local media, Navalny, 47, became unwell after a walk before losing consciousness. Despite apparent efforts to resuscitate the outspoken Vladimir Putin critic he could not be revived.

Citing prison officials and the Russian Investigative Committee, local media outlets have reported that an investigation has been launched into the 47-year-old Putin critic’s death.

Navalny who was serving 19 years in prison on extremism charges was seen only a day before his death 'looking well and laughing' during a court hearing. His death has been viewed by many as a political assassination and quickly brought the ire of Western political figures.  

Navalny was a forthright critic of Putin, accusing the Russian government of systemic finical and political corruption. He quickly became the leading political opposition to Putin and was supported by the West. Alexei Navalny used to live with his wife, Yulia, and two children, Daria and Zahar in south-eastern Moscow and rose to prominence in the early 2000s.

Navalny began his political career as a lone blogger before expanding his team. He released bank records, leaked documents, maps, blueprints of properties, photos and drone footage exposing the opulent lifestyles of the country's elite. Navalny revealed palatial residences in Russia and luxurious properties abroad whilst exposing foreign passports, multibillion-dollar assets, and well-paid positions in Kremlin-linked corporations. His content was widely circulated, receiving professional acclaim and he was seen as a catalyst for change.

In 2017, he announced he would run for Russian President and since then, spent much of his time either recovering from attacks or in prison. After Navalny's poisoning in August 2020 and his subsequent treatment in Germany, he returned to Russia triggering a series of events including arrests, trials, and international outcry. Despite relentless attacks and imprisonment, Navalny continued to challenge Putin's regime right up until his untimely death.

His wife Yulia, who took the stage during this year's Munich Security Conference expressed suspicion over her husband's death stating the news reports come from unreliable Russian Media sources.

His mother Lyudmila, according to the BBC, refused to accept any condolence messages. Meanwhile, Navalny’s closest aide said that there was no way to confirm his death adding that prison authorities' statement amounted to a confession of murder.

There has been a global reaction to his death. World leaders, both past and present, from the United Nations to the European Union and beyond have made public statements mourning the death of the Russian opposition leader. Across Europe Protesters have gathered outside Russian embassies in major and capital cities calling for the Russian President to be brought to the Hague. President of the United States, Joe Biden has called the opposition leader’s death proof of Putin’s brutality adding that Washington is, “looking at a whole number of options” to hold Putin to account.


But we must ask, what does this all really mean? The West routinely accuses Russia and countries around the world of crushing dissent and opposition voices. However, its own track record is far from exemplary.  

Consider the case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who faces extradition to the United States on charges related to the publication of classified documents. Classified documents which exposed, in many cases, systemic corruption, misuse of power and, ironically, the silencing of dissent and opposition. The extradition process has been the subject of legal battles and international attention. He is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts relating to WikiLeaks' release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic communications. The United Kingdom had approved the decision of his extradition to the U.S. in 2022 but the WikiLeaks founder’s lawyers are currently working on their last-ditch effort to halt the UK’s decision by challenging it in London’s High Court next week. Now think of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and the myriad others arrested, smeared or perhaps killed for political opposition in the West.

Regardless, the West must condemn Putin for Navalny's death and declare the coming March 17 Russian election illegitimate. As Navalny knew, Russian elections are neither free nor fair. Western leaders would do well to follow the advice of Mikhail Khodorkovsky who, in Politico, called on its leaders “to get tougher with [Navalny’s] murderer.” Even though the UK and the U.S. need to examine their handling of dissent, namely Assange’s extradition, nothing absolves Putin and his government of the death of Alexei Navalny.

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