Russia orders arrest of Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Putin’s nemesis

By Washington Post (World News) | Created at 2024-07-10 12:52:00 | Updated at 2024-07-21 19:36:36 1 week ago
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A Russian court on Tuesday ordered the arrest of Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died suddenly in an Arctic prison in February.

Navalnaya, who has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin personally of murdering her husband, no longer lives in Russia. But the decision to issue the arrest warrant on the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting Moscow for a state visit sent a loud message to Putin’s critics, including in Washington.

Unlike President Biden, who condemned Navalny’s death and proclaimed Putin to be responsible for it, Modi said nothing at the time. Asked about Navalny’s death, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata political party reiterated India’s close relations with Russia and also that India had expressed opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The arrest order accused Navalnaya of participating in an “extremist” group — her husband’s political and anti-corruption organization — and it demonstrated the Kremlin’s continuing focus on Navalny, who had become Putin’s nemesis and most formidable opponent, even months after his death at age 47.

Navalny in 2020 survived a poisoning attack carried out by Russian agents using an internationally banned chemical weapon, but was arrested upon his return to Russia in January 2021, following his recovery in a Berlin hospital. He was held mostly in punitive isolation cells as the authorities added new charges and criminal cases against him. Ultimately, he was transferred to the Polar Wolf prison colony near the Arctic Circle, where he died in February.

Responding to the arrest order, Navalnaya repeated her murder charge against Putin. The Kremlin has denied that Putin had any role in Navalny’s death and Russian authorities issued a death certificate that cited natural causes.

“When you write about this, please do not forget to write the main thing: Vladimir Putin is a murderer and a war criminal,” Navalnaya posted on X, formerly Twitter. “His place is in prison, and not somewhere in The Hague, in a cozy cell with a TV, but in Russia — in the same colony and the same 2 by 3 meter cell in which he killed Alexei,” she added.

Navalnaya had been her husband’s confidante and closest adviser for years but kept a low public profile, publicly stating that she was focused on their two children. But she stepped dramatically into the spotlight mere hours after the news of her husband’s death, giving a surprise speech to world leaders gathered at the Munich Security Conference.

“I want Putin and everyone around him, Putin’s friends, his government, to know that they will bear responsibility for what they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband. And this day will come very soon,” she said.

Days later, she released a video message urging Navalny’s supporters not to give up in the struggle against Putin’s authoritarian rule in hopes of maintaining momentum of Navalny’s movement. She said she would take up the mantle as leader of that effort.

“I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work. … I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” she said. “I ask you to share with me the rage. The fury, anger, hatred for those who dare to kill our future.”

A statement from the Basmanny court in Moscow did not specify the full nature of charges but they appeared to be linked to a 2021 ruling that declared three organizations set up by her husband to be “extremist,” including the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which published multiple investigations into the illicit wealth and corrupt schemes of members of Putin’s close circle.

Those investigations, some recounted in dramatic videos viewed millions of times on YouTube, prompted thousands of Russians to take part in protests over the years.

Russian authorities have slapped the “extremist” label on numerous independent movements and nongovernmental organizations, suggesting that they seek to undermine the country’s “constitutional order” — a thinly veiled excuse to dismantle organizations viewed as posing a challenged to Putin’s quarter-century rule.

Since Navalny’s funeral in March, which his widow was not able to attend, Navalnaya has met with multiple world leaders, including Biden. In July, she was elected chair of the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes human rights worldwide.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Vladimir Kara-Murza, a prominent critic of Putin and Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for The Washington Post who is serving a 25-year jail sentence for treason, said they had finally been able to visit him after six days in which he could not be reached.

The lawyers said the authorities prevented them from visiting Kara-Murza in a hospital where he had been taken. Kara-Murza, who suffers from health complications following two poisonings, is imprisoned in the Siberian city of Omsk, more than 1,200 miles from Moscow.

One of his lawyers, Vadim Prohkorov, called again for Kara-Murza’s release from the prison colony because of his precarious medical condition.

“Vladimir Kara-Murza’s health condition is currently relatively stable. But he suffers from a serious chronic disease that prevents him from serving his sentence in a correctional colony — polyneuropathy,” Prokhorov wrote in a Facebook post. The disease is a malfunction of peripheral nerves throughout the body.

In one of Kara-Murza’s most recent letters from prison, he wrote to a friend: “To me, as a historian, the present time in general reminds me very much of the ‘gloomy seven years’ of the end of Nicholas I’s reign. The darkest time.”

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