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Q&A: What does Alexei Navalny’s funeral mean for Putin and Russia

Alexei Navalny will be laid to rest in Moscow
Alexei Navalny will be laid to rest in Moscow - AFP

Alexei Navalny, who was the leader of the Russian opposition will be laid to rest in Moscow on Friday.

The ceremony is likely to attract crowds of supporters and will create a challenge for Vladimir Putin who has been widely accused of sanctioning his killing.

What is happening on Friday?

Allies of Navalny have spent days trying to find a funeral venue willing to host a farewell ceremony for the opposition leader who died in prison in murky circumstances earlier this month.

After they failed to find a venue for a civil ceremony, Navalny’s team said supporters were welcome to say their goodbyes to the 47-year-old politician on Friday at the Church of the Icon of Our Lady Quench My Sorrow, in Maryino, on the southern outskirts of Moscow, at 2pm local time (5pm GMT). Navalny was a practising Christian.

The burial is scheduled for 4pm at the Borisovskoye, which is a cemetery a few kilometres south, across the Moskva River.

Navalny lived in Maryino south-east Moscow, which is a predominantly working class  area, most of his life and was proud of his roots.

Why has the Kremlin allowed it?

It took Russian authorities more than nine days before they released Navalny’s body to his family. His elderly mother publicly spoke out against prison officials and investigators who reportedly threatened her and tried to coerce the family into agreeing to a low-profile funeral outside the remote prison colony where her son died.

Navalny’s mother fought off the pressure as she insisted that her son’s supporters should be given a chance to mourn.

On Saturday, authorities backed down and handed over the body to Navalny’s mother for burial.

What are the risks for mourners?

Thousands of people across Russia have been bringing flowers to monuments dedicated to victims of Soviet-era political repression in the memory of Navalny but many have faced arbitrary detentions.

At least 400 people were detained in 39 cities across Russia during the first four days of mourning, according to OVD Info which monitors the Russian police.

Anyone detained for staging a protest faces a prison sentence on repeat offence in Russia.

In St Petersburg, at least seven men were detained and issued summons to the military commissioner’s office, which could see them drafted and sent off to fight in Ukraine.

It remains to be seen how authorities are going to react to what will likely be swelling crowds of mourners in south-east Moscow on Friday.

What are the risks for Putin?

Putin is standing for re-election next month. He is sure to secure a win in a tightly-controlled election where voting will also be held in occupied areas of Ukraine, giving ground to blatant vote-rigging with a complete lack of oversight by observers.

Pictures of thousands of people braving arrests to mourn Putin’s most formidable foe are likely to hurt the Russian president’s not inconsiderable ego.

His perceived popularity among the Russian people – which is a large part of his mandate – could be damaged if Putin orders in his riot police to detain and beat up mourners with flowers at a Russian Orthodox church just before the start of Lent.

What happens after the funeral?

Despite being jailed for two and a half years, Navalny remained a force to be reckoned with in Russia, his courtroom speeches widely cited as an example of moral fortitude. He was closely following the developments in Russia, offering his ideas for resistance in the face of an increasingly totalitarian regime.

In what turned out to be his last idea for political action, Navalny earlier this month called on anti-war, pro-democracy Russians to show up at polling stations on the election day at noon sharp to make it clear to the Kremlin and the world that millions of Russians, who would otherwise be afraid to protest, oppose the Putin regime.

This and the swelling crowds at his funeral will be his parting gift to Putin.