Putin critic dies in jail

TALLINN, Estonia — World leaders and Russian opposition activists wasted no time Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in blaming the reported death of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny on President Vladimir Putin and his government.

“It is obvious that he was killed by Putin,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was visiting Germany for the Munich Security Conference as he sought aid for his country’s efforts to fight off an invasion by Russia.

“Putin doesn’t care who dies — only for him to hold his position. This is why he must hold onto nothing. Putin must lose everything and be held responsible for his deeds,” Zelenskyy added.

US President Joe Biden said Washington does not know exactly what happened, “but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did.”

Navalny “could have lived safely in exile,” but instead returned to Russia to “continue his work,” despite knowing he could be imprisoned or killed “because he believed so deeply in his country, in Russia.”

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

“He has probably now paid for this courage with his life,” Scholz said, adding that he met Navalny in Berlin during his convalescence.

Navalny, 47, was serving a 19-year prison sentence on extremism charges in a remote penal colony above the Arctic Circle at the time of his death. He had been behind bars since he returned from Germany in January 2021, serving time on various charges that he rejected as a politically motivated effort to keep him imprisoned for life.

Navalny’s associates stressed they did not have independent confirmation of his death in the reports that came from Russia’s penitentiary officials. His close ally Ivan Zhdanov said authorities “must notify the relatives” within 24 hours, but there have been no such notifications.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, appearing at the Munich conference, said she did not know whether to believe the official Russian announcement because “we cannot trust Putin and the Putin government. They always lie.”

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

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