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Alexey Navalny dead in a Russian penal colony, prison service says

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Alexey Navalny, a potent political foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who survived at least two suspected poisonings, has died in a Russian penal colony, Russian prison authorities said Friday. The Office of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia for the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District reported his death, saying he “felt unwell” after going for a walk on Friday and “almost immediately” lost consciousness.

“Medical workers from the institution arrived immediately and an emergency medical team was called. All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, but did not yield positive results,” the prison authority said in a statement. “Emergency doctors confirmed the death of the convict.”

“We’ve all just received reports that Alexei Navalny has died in Russia,” Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday from the Munich Security Conference in Germany. “This is of course terrible news, which we are working to confirm. My prayers are with his family, including his wife Yulia, who is with us today. And if confirmed, this would be a further sign of Putin’s brutality. Whatever story they tell, let us be clear: Russia is responsible. And we will have more to say on this later.”

“For more than a decade, the Russian government, Putin, persecuted, poisoned and imprisoned Alexei Navalny and now, reports of his death,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday. “If these reports are accurate, our hearts go out to his wife and his family. Beyond that, his death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built. Russia is responsible for this. We’ll be talking to the many other countries concerned about Alexei Navalny, especially if these reports bear out to be true,” Blinken said. 

Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said her team was unable to confirm the information from the prison service.

“The Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is spreading the news of Alexey Navalny’s death in IK-3. We have no confirmation of this yet. Alexey’s lawyer is currently on his way to Kharp. As soon as we have some information, we will report on it,” Yarmysh said on social media. The IK-3 penal colony is about 1,200 miles from Moscow, in Russia’s remote, far north Urals region.

Leonid Volkov, the Chief of Staff for Navalny, said on social media that his team had “no reason to believe state propaganda. If this is true, then it’s not ‘Navalny died,’ but ‘Putin killed Navalny,’ and only that. But I don’t trust them one penny.”

Appeal Hearing Held Over Navalny's 9-Year Sentence
Russian opposition politician, anti-corruption campaigner and founder of the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Alexey Navalny is seen on the screen during a legal appeal against his nine-year prison sentence, in Moscow’s City Court, May 24, 2022, in Moscow, Russia.


Navalny made an appearance in a Russian court via video link on Thursday, where, according to local media, he appeared cheerful and healthy. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Putin had been briefed on Navalny’s death, and told journalists that “it should be up to the medics to clarify” the cause.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Friday that it would be a “terrible tragedy” if Navalny’s death was confirmed, and that it would raise questions about what happened to him. He said the U.S. government was still seeking information, and it would determine what comes next based on the full picture.

Who was Alexey Navalny?

Alexey Navalny, 47, was the most outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government before he was imprisoned in Russia in 2021. He was initially handed a nine-year sentence in a high-security prison about 150 miles east of Moscow for parole violations, fraud, and contempt of court when he was convicted of promoting “extremism.” That sentence was extended by 19 years in August 2023.

Navalny and many outside observers have always considered the charges against him retaliation for his criticism of Putin and the Kremlin’s policies, both foreign and domestic. The U.S. State Department also considered his prosecution and imprisonment “politically motivated.”

Navalny criticized Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Just a month after it started, he slammed Putin as a “madman” who had launched a “stupid war” and said Russia’s leaders would “burn in hell” for their actions. 

He was born in 1976 in Butyn, a village west of Moscow, and grew up in a town about 60 miles from the capital city. In 1997, he graduated with a law degree from Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia in Moscow and spent a year in the U.S. as a Yale world fellow in 2010. 

Around that time, he began his public opposition to the Kremlin. 

Navalny the politician, and the poisonings

Navalny unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013, denouncing an election he said was rigged by his opponent, a Putin ally. He described the Russian president’s party as one of “crooks and thieves,” which became a rallying cry for his millions of Twitter and YouTube followers and a thorn in Putin’s side.

He attempted to challenge Putin in the country’s 2018 presidential election, but the Kremlin barred him from running due to a prior fraud conviction that Navalny said was politically motivated. 

Then, after he was jailed for organizing an “unauthorized protest” in 2019, Navalny suddenly became sick. Russian doctors called his illness “contact dermatitis,” but Navalny and his personal doctor suspected he had been poisoned. Two years earlier, he had been assaulted with a green dye that left a serious chemical burn in his right eye.

Speaking to “60 Minutes” that year, he wondered why he was still alive.

“Maybe they missed their good timing for it when I was less famous,” Navalny said. 

White House expresses concern after jailed activist not heard from in “nearly a week”


Then, in the summer of 2020, the anti-corruption activist plunged into fits of agony while on a flight. His plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Siberia. Initially, Navalny — who had fallen into a coma — was not permitted to leave the country. Russia said it was purely a medical decision, but his team feared the worst. 

After 48 hours, the Kremlin allowed Navalny to be flown by air ambulance to a hospital in Berlin known for its experience with victims of poison attacks. There, doctors confirmed he had been poisoned with Novichok, a highly toxic nerve agent said to be 10 times more potent than sarin gas.

After making a dramatic recovery, Navalny blamed Putin for the attack, telling “60 Minutes” that he was “sure he’s responsible.”

Navalny’s defiant return to Russia

Despite the danger, in January 2021, Navalny decided to return to Russia, which denied any involvement in his illness. Upon his return, he was detained at a Moscow airport and charged with violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence for failing to check in with prison officials while in Germany. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand his release, according to The Associated Press. 

A Russian court remanded him to serve the remaining 32 months of that sentence.

“My life isn’t worth two cents, but I will do everything I can so that the law prevails,” Navalny said at the time.

While in prison, he went on a 24-day hunger strike — a protest over a perceived lack of proper medical care. He ended the strike after he said he had been examined by non-prison doctors. Thousands of people again took to the street to support him. 

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny ends hunger strike


In April 2021, his wife Yulia told “60 Minutes” that no matter what came next for her husband, “Alexey has already won.” 

“He survived this horrible poisoning and returned to Moscow to face those who tried to murder him,” she said. “Putin knows it. His advisers, his friends, his government, everybody in his inner circle know it.”

In March 2022, Navalny was found guilty of fraud and contempt of court and sentenced to nine additional years of detention in a penal colony in a high-security prison. He again decried the charges as baseless and politically motivated. 

In August 2023, a court added another 19 years to his sentence, and a few months later, Navalny was transferred to a high-security prison with a reputation for abuse — known as the “torture conveyor belt” — which raised further concerns about his safety. 

“Without public protection, Alexey will be face to face with those who have already tried to kill him, and nothing will stop them from trying again,” his spokeswoman, Yarmysh, said after the court’s decision in March. “Therefore, we are now talking not only about Alexey’s freedom, but also about his life.”  

In December 2023, Navalny’s supporters said they lost touch with him for two weeks as he was apparently being moved to another site in Russia’s prison system, heightening already serious concerns about his welfare.

Navalny is survived by his wife, Yulia, and their two children, Daria and Zakhar.

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