Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

A person lights a candle next to a portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny at the monument to the victims of political repressions, following Navalny's death, in Saint Petersburg, Russia on Feb. 16.STRINGER/Reuters

Western leaders and their deputies were quick to say Alexey Navalny’s death was caused by the Kremlin, after the Russian penitentiary service said he died Friday after taking a walk in his Arctic prison and feeling unwell. A few of them even accused the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering the murder of his most outspoken opponent and critic of the invasion of Ukraine.

“I’m literally both not surprised and outraged by the news reported death of Navalny,” U.S. President Joe Biden said. “He bravely stood up to the corruption.”

Mr. Biden blamed Mr. Putin for the opposition leader’s death. “But make no mistake, make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. Putin is responsible,” he said.

Among others setting the tone for the accusations was Edgars Rinkevics, the President of Latvia, a former Soviet republic that joined NATO in 2004. Writing on social media almost immediately after Mr. Navalny’s death was confirmed, he said the dissident “was just brutally murdered by the Kremlin. That’s a fact and that is something one should know about the true nature of Russia’s current regime.”

Dimitry Muratov, the Russian newspaper editor and Nobel laureate who was declared a “foreign agent” by Russian authorities in 2023, also assumed that Mr. Navalny had been killed. He told Reuters that the jailed opposition leader’s death at the age of 47 was “murder” and that the harsh prison conditions led to his demise.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used a CBC radio interview to call Mr. Putin a “monster” but did not specifically accuse him of ordering Mr. Navalny’s death.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in cities across Europe and beyond on Friday to express their outrage over the death of Mr. Navalny.

In Berlin, a crowd of 500 to 600 people, according to police estimates, gathered in front of the Russian embassy on the city’s Unter den Linden boulevard and chanted “Putin is a killer” in a mixture of Russian, German and English.

Some also chanted “Putin to the Hague,” referring to the international criminal court investigating possible war crimes committed in Ukraine.

More than 100 protesters stood outside Russia’s London embassy, holding placards that called Mr. Putin a war criminal, while hundreds in Lisbon held a silent vigil. Groups also gathered in Rome, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Geneva and the Hague, among others.

Mr. Navalny endured countless horrors in recent years as he intensified his attacks on Mr. Putin. He once said in an interview that “corruption is the foundation of contemporary Russia, it is the foundation of Mr. Putin’s political power.”

From protests to poisoning and prison, a look at the life of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny

In August, 2020, Mr. Navalny survived a poisoning attempt that used a banned chemical nerve agent, which the U.S. State Department said was carried out by Russian agents. He fell into a coma on a domestic Russian flight and was sent to a Berlin hospital for life-saving treatment. After he recovered, he accused the Kremlin of trying to kill him – an accusation denied by Moscow.

He was arrested upon his return to Russia in early 2021 on what human-rights groups described as trumped-up charges and has been held in various prisons since then. His team said he was kept in solitary punishment cells on 27 occasions, for a total of 300 days, and was punished for petty or ridiculous offences such as not keeping his top button fastened.

Two months ago, he was sent to a prison in the Yamalo-Nenets region in the frigid far north of central Russia, above the Arctic Circle.

“For more than a decade, the Russian government, Putin, persecuted, poisoned and imprisoned Alexey Navalny and now reports of his death,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.

In a tweet, Czechia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Lipavsky, said Russia “has turned into a violent state that kills people who dream of a better future, like [Putin critic Boris] Nemtsov or now Navalny – imprisoned and tortured to death for standing up to Putin.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky heard about Mr. Navalny’s death after arriving Friday in Berlin, where he was trying to rally Western support for his soldiers as their stock of weapons falls short.

“It is obvious to me that he was killed,” he told reporters at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Putin does not care who dies as long as he stays in his position, and this is why he should lose everything. This is why he should lose the war and he should be held accountable for the crimes that were committed on his behalf.”

It seems possible that Mr. Navalny’s death will harden the West’s resolve to provide new weapons and budget financing to Ukraine as its military faces a fresh Russian onslaught in the eastern parts of the country, notably around Avdiivka. Recent reports say the small city could soon fall to Russian forces.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg implied that democracies such as Ukraine (which has been under martial law since the invasion started two years ago) need all the help they can get to fight autocratic Russia. “We remain committed to support everyone that believes in democracy and freedom, as Alexey Navalny has done for so many years,” he said.

News of Mr. Navalny’s death shocked the attendees of the Munich Security Conference on Friday. U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris blamed the Kremlin for his death and hinted that the United States would respond in the coming days. “Whatever story they tell, let us be clear: Russia is responsible,” she said during a speech at the conference.

She was not specific about what the United States’s response might be, offering only that “we will have more to say on this later.”

Mr. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, was in the audience after Ms. Harris’s speech, explaining that she attended the conference because that was what her husband would have done. “And I would like to call upon all of the international community, all the people in the world, we should come together and we should fight against this evil,” she said. “We should fight this horrific regime in Russia today.”

She received a standing ovation.

With a report from Reuters

  • Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny pays his respects to the founder of Russia’s oldest human rights group and Sakharov Prize winner Lyudmila Alexeyeva in Moscow on December 11, 2018.Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

    1 of 22

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe