Putin 'responsible' for Alexei Navalny's death, Biden says as flowers laid in Moscow to opposition leader

Vladimir Putin’s regime is “responsible” for the death of Alexei Navalny, an “outraged” Joe Biden said on Friday.

The US president said: “What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality. No one should be fooled... Putin does not only target citizens of other countries, he also inflicts terrible crimes on his own people.”

“Alexei Navalny was so many things that Putin was not,” he added.

The UK Foreign Office said on Friday night it had summoned the Russian Embassy following Mr Navalny’s death.

In a statement, a spokesperson said Mr Navalny “dedicated his life to exposing the corruption of the Russian system, calling for free and open politics, and holding the Kremlin to account”.

“The Russian authorities saw Mr Navalny as a threat,” said the spokesperson. “Many Russian citizens felt he gave them a voice.

“In recent years, the authorities imprisoned him on fabricated charges, poisoned him with a banned nerve agent, and sent him to an Arctic penal colony. No-one should doubt the brutal nature of the Russian system. His death must be investigated fully and transparently.”

People take part in a protest opposite the Russian Embassy in London, organised by Voice for Global Democracy, on Friday night (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
People take part in a protest opposite the Russian Embassy in London, organised by Voice for Global Democracy, on Friday night (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

The spokesperson said the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office “today summoned the Russian Embassy to make clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible”.

“Mr Navalny was a man of great courage and iron will,” they addd. “Even from his prison cell, he continued to speak up for the rights of the Russian people. His dedication to human rights and exposing corruption was an inspiration to millions. The ideals for which he stood and died will live forever.”

Mr Navalny died aged 47 in a penal colony, the country’s prison service said on Friday.

The prison authorities claimed in a statement that Mr Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday and lost consciousness.

An ambulance arrived to try to rehabilitate him, but he died, it further alleged.

People gather to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny (AP)
People gather to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny (AP)

There was no immediate confirmation of Mr Navalny's death from his team.

Speaking at the Munich security conference, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron also blamed Putin’s regime, as he said there “should be consequences” for Russia.

“There is no doubt in my mind this man was a brave fighter against corruption, for justice, for democracy,” he said.

“Look what Putin’s Russia did to him – they trumped up charges, they imprisoned him, they poisoned him, they sent him to an Arctic penal colony and he’s died – that is because of the action that Putin’s Russia took.”

The Kremlin said it had no information on the cause of Mr Navalny’s death.But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his death in prison, if true, underscored what he branded the “weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built”.

He added: “Russia is responsible for this.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz linked the death of the prominent Kremlin critic to the Russian political apparatus.

Alexei Navalny was a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin (AP)
Alexei Navalny was a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin (AP)

“He stood up for democracy and freedom in Russia - and apparently paid for his courage with his life,” Mr Scholz wrote on X.

He added that the news showed “what kind of regime is in power in Moscow”.

Mr Navalny’s supporters had raised fears that he would be poisoned in jail.

He died on Friday after collapsing and losing consciousness at the penal colony north of the Arctic Circle where he was serving a long jail term, the Russian prison service claimed.

Mr Navalny’s wife said Putin and his associates would not go unpunished if his death was confirmed.

Yulia Navalny called upon the international community to come together and fight against the "horrific regime" in Russia, in a statement at the Munich Security Conference.

"I don't know whether to believe the news, the terrible news that we are receiving only from the state sources in Russia," she said, adding that Putin and his government are "always lying".

"But if this is true, I would like that Putin and all his coterie, Putin's friends, his government to know that they will be accountable for what they've done to our country, to my family, and to my husband. They will be liable for that. That day will come very soon.

"I would like to call upon the global community, everyone in this room, people around the world, that we would unite together and overcome that evil, overcome that terrible regime that is currently in Russia. That regime and Vladimir Putin have to be personally liable for all the horrible things they are doing to my country, to our country Russia in the last years."

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Friday (AFP via Getty Images)
Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Friday (AFP via Getty Images)

On Friday afternoon dozens of Russians in Moscow lined up to lay flowers in memory of Mr Navalny at a memorial to Gulag victims outside the FSB headquarters.

Russian police largely left mourners alone at the makeshift memorial but one man who showed up with a poster that said ‘murderer’ was arrested. Later on Friday journalists were arrested in Moscow and St Petersburg. Mass gatherings are outlawed in Russia without explicit police approval.

By far Russia's most famous opposition leader, Mr Navalny rose to prominence more than a decade ago by lampooning the elite class round President Vladimir Putin and voicing allegations of corruption on a vast scale.

Navalny aid Leonid Volkov said he was unable to confirm the death, adding that the Opposition leader’s lawyer was travelling to the site of the prison where he had been serving his sentence.

The former head of Navalny's political organisation alleged that if it were true that he is dead, then Putin was to blame.

Mr Volkov wrote on X: "We have no basis to believe state propaganda. If it's true, then it's not 'Navalny died', but only that 'Putin killed him'. But I don't believe them for a second."

Newspaper editor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov called the death “murder” and said that he believed prison conditions had led to Mr Navalny’s demise.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described Mr Navalny’s reported death as "terrible news".

He added: "As the fiercest advocate for Russian democracy, Alexei Navalny demonstrated incredible courage throughout his life."

Crowds of people gathered for a protest opposite the Russian Embassy in London on Friday night, following the news of Mr Navalny’s death. Photos showed them holding placards, lighting candles, and laying flowers.

The Federal Penitentiary Service of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District said in a statement that Navalny "felt unwell" after a walk at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) north east of Moscow.

Navalny, the prison service said, had lost consciousness almost immediately.

"The medical staff of the institution arrived immediately, and an ambulance team was called," the prison service alleged.

"All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not yield positive results. Doctors of the ambulance stated the death of the convict."

"The causes of death are being established."

Russian prisons are notorious for their violence and ill-treatment of inmates.

Putin has been told about Mr Navalny's death, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Mr Navalny earned admiration from Russia's disparate opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent.

Mr Navalny said at the time that he was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020. The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned with a nerve agent.

But the Russian authorities have been accused by Britain of lying about the 2018 Salisbury poisonings using the military grade nerve agent Novichok to target former double-agent Sergei Skripal.

The widow of poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko said she believed Mr Navalny may have been more effective in opposing Putin had he not returned to Russia.

Marina Litvinenko told Times Radio: “Even if Alexei Navalny was in prison and he had a sentence for a long time to spend in the camp, I believed he would have survived before Putin’s regime collapsed. Unfortunately, now we lost this hope. And now Alexei Navalny was killed and Putin’s regime exists.”

Asked whether his death will further silence dissent in Russia, she said: “I don’t think so. Alexei Navalny was prominent and, very well known opposition, but they locked him out of all people in this prison make him maybe less, active. And what that means for me, he should not be not in prison. He should be alive. He should live maybe in the West, and he would be more effective. But it was his decision to go back to Russia.”

Asked if she thought he should have gone into exile and directed operations from afar, she said: “Because, his life, I think, would be more important than this death. He believed he’s a Russian politician and he believed only in Russia, he might be accepted as a Russian politician.

“It’s a different society, you can’t do anything being a prisoner. And it didn’t make people be active and go outside. Particularly when war in Ukraine started.”

Mr Navalny was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, which were widely seen to be politically motivated.

He was moved in December from a prison in central Russia to the "special regime" penal colony - the highest security level of prisons in the country - above the Artic Circle.

His allies decried the transfer to a colony in the town of Kharp.

Born in Butyn, about 25 miles outside Moscow. He received a law degree from People's Friendship University in 1998 and did a fellowship at Yale in 2010.

He gained attention by focusing on corruption in Russia's murky mix of politicians and businesses; one of his early moves was to buy a stake in Russian oil and gas companies to become an activist shareholder and push for transparency.

By concentrating on corruption, Mr Navalny's work had a pocketbook appeal to Russians' widespread sense of being cheated, and he carried stronger resonance than more abstract and philosophical concerns about democratic ideals and human rights.

He was convicted in 2013 of embezzlement on what he called a politically motivated prosecution and was sentenced to five years in prison, but the prosecutor's office later surprisingly demanded his release pending appeal. A higher court later gave him a suspended sentence.

The day before the sentence, Navalny had registered as a candidate for Moscow mayor. The opposition saw his release as the result of large protests in the capital of his sentence, but many observers attributed it to a desire by authorities to add a tinge of legitimacy to the mayoral election.

Mr Navalny's popularity increased after the leading charismatic politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot and killed in 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin.

Whenever Putin spoke about Mr Navalny, he made it a point to never mention the activist by name, referring to him as "that person" or similar wording, in an apparent effort to diminish his importance.

Although state-controlled TV channels ignored Mr Navalny, his investigations resonated with younger Russians via YouTube videos and posts on his website and social media accounts.

His work broadened from focusing on corruption to wholescale criticism of the political system under Putin, who has led Russia for over two decades.

He often tweeted sarcastic remarks from police custody or courtrooms on the many occasions he was arrested.

When Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Mr Navalny strongly condemned the war in social media posts from prison and during his court appearances.

Less than a month after the start of the war, he was sentenced to an additional nine-year term for embezzlement and contempt of court in a case he and his supporters rejected as fabricated.

The investigators immediately launched a new probe, and in August 2023 Navalny was convicted on charges of extremism and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

After the verdict, Mr Navalny said he understands that he's "serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime."

A documentary called "Navalny" that detailed his career, his near-fatal poisoning and his return to Moscow won an Academy Award for best documentary in March 2023.

Besides his wife, Navalny is survived by a son and a daughter.