April 14, 2024

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Western officials and Kremlin critics hold Putin responsible for Navalny's death

Western officials and Kremlin critics hold Putin responsible for Navalny's death

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — World leaders and Russian opposition activists wasted no time Friday in shifting blame for reports of prisoner deaths Opposition leader Alexei Navalny On President Vladimir Putin and his government.

“It is clear that he was killed by Putin,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was visiting Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference seeking help for his country in its fight against Russia’s invasion.

“Putin does not care who dies, only to keep his position. That is why he must not hold on to anything. Putin must lose everything and take responsibility for his actions,” Zelensky added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose country temporarily seized Navalny in 2020 after he was poisoned with a nerve agent, praised the Kremlin critic's courage and said his death showed “what kind of regime this is.”

“He may have paid for this courage with his life,” Schulz said, standing next to Zelensky. The German leader said he met Navalny in Berlin during his recovery period.

Navalny (47 years old) was serving a prison sentence 19 years imprisonment On charges of extremism in a remote penal colony above the Arctic Circle at the time of his death. He has been behind bars since his return from Germany in January 2021, where he served time on various charges that he dismissed as a politically motivated attempt to keep him in prison for life.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkevich said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Navalny was “brutally murdered by the Kremlin.” “This is a fact and this is something one should know about the true nature of the current regime in Russia.”

Navalny's associates stressed that they had no independent confirmation of his death in reports from Russian prison officials. His close ally Ivan Zhdanov said the authorities “should notify the relatives” within 24 hours, but nothing happened.

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Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, who appeared at the Munich conference, said she didn't know whether to believe it or not because “we cannot trust Putin and Putin's government. They always lie.”

She added: “But if this is true, then I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin's friends, and his government, to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family, and to my husband.” “This day will come very soon,” she added.

The outpouring of sympathy for Navalny's family and anger at the Kremlin, which in recent years has launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent, has come from around the world.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exiled Russian businessman, said: “If this is true, then responsibility for the premature death, regardless of the official cause, lies with Vladimir Putin personally, who first gave the green light to poison Alexei and then put him in prison.” He turned opposition figure in exile, in an online statement.

This was echoed by other Russian opposition activists.

“If Alexei’s death is confirmed, it is a murder. It was organized by Putin,” opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov said on social media. “Even if Alexei died of ‘natural’ causes, it was caused by his poisoning and additional torture in prison.”

“Putin tried and failed to kill Navalny quickly and secretly with poison, and now he is killing him slowly and openly in prison,” said Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion turned Kremlin rival.

“He was killed because he exposed Putin and his mafia as crooks and thieves,” Kasparov, who lives abroad, said on Twitter.

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Pyotr Verzilov, a prominent member of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot, said Navalny was killed in prison. “We will definitely take revenge and destroy this regime,” Verzilov added in a post on the X website.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Navalny's death showed that “Putin fears nothing more than opposition from his own people.”

She called it a “grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are all about,” and added that it should provide an incentive “to unite in our fight to protect the freedom and safety of those who dare to stand up against tyranny.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia has questions it must answer.

“What we have seen is that Russia is becoming a more and more authoritarian power, and that they have been using repression against dissent for many years,” Stoltenberg said.

He said Navalny “was in prison, a prisoner, and this makes it very important that Russia now answers all the questions it will be asked about the cause of death.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris, also in Munich, described his death, if confirmed, as “another sign of Putin’s brutality” and that “whatever story they tell – let’s be clear – Russia is responsible.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said reports of Alexei Navalny's death were “terrible” news and another sign of Putin's brutality. (February 16)

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron echoed her comments, saying: “Putin’s Russia imprisoned him, framed charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to a penal colony in the Arctic, and now he has tragically died. We must hold Putin responsible for that.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the news left Canadians “reeling.”

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He was a strong fighter for democracy, freedoms and the Russian people. “It really shows the extent to which Putin will suppress anyone who fights for the freedom of the Russian people.”

Trudeau added: “There is no doubt that Alexei Navalny died because he stood up to Putin, and he stood up to the Kremlin.”

Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov said Navalny had for years been “a symbol of the struggle against dictatorship in Russia, of the struggle for freedom of expression, and of the fact that no one can be imprisoned for a different opinion.”

Russian lawmakers and other officials expressed anger at the Western outcry.

Sergei Mironov, head of the pro-Kremlin party, said Navalny's death helps Russia's enemies.

“Of course, health problems could be the cause of death. But in any case, the premature death of a notorious 'opposition figure', especially a month before the presidential elections, is beneficial first and foremost to Russia's enemies,” Mironov said in an online statement. “They will use it to the maximum extent to put pressure on us from abroad and to destabilize the situation inside the country.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “The immediate reaction of NATO leaders to Navalny’s death in the form of direct accusations against Russia is self-exposing.” She added that the death was still being investigated, but “the conclusions reached by the West are already ready.”

Russian opposition activists in Europe have called for marches on Friday in front of Russian embassies, and vigils are planned in Georgia, Israel and Armenia, according to Anastasia Burakova, founder of Kovchig, a group that helps exiled Russians.