sábado, abril 13

Navalny’s widow pledges to continue opposition leader’s work

The widow of Alexei A. Navalny said Monday she will continue her husband’s work to challenge the autocratic rule of President Vladimir V. Putin, presenting herself for the first time as a political force and calling on her supporters to rally behind its ratings.

The sudden death in prison of Mr. Navalny, announced Friday by the Russian authorities, left a void within a decimated Russian opposition. His supporters wondered whether his wife, Yulia Navalnaya – who has long avoided the spotlight – could step in, despite immense challenges, to fill the void.

In a video posted on Monday, Ms. Navalnaya, 47, indicated that she would do so. She said she first appeared on her husband’s YouTube channel to tell her subscribers that the best way to honor his legacy was to «fight with more desperation and fury than before.»

“I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny and continue to fight for our country,” Ms Navalnaya said. “I call on you to stand by me, to share not only the endless sorrow and pain that has enveloped us and will not let go. I ask you to share my rage – to share my rage, my anger and my hatred towards those who dared to kill our future.

The nearly nine-minute video, which showed Ms. Navalnaya sitting with her hands clasped on a marble surface under dramatic lighting, was intended as a sort of presentation of a new leader in the fractured pro-democracy movement against Mr. Putin . Long plagued by infighting and competing egos, the movement withered under a years-long crackdown in Russia that left its most prominent leaders in exile, in prison or dead.

Ms Navalnaya has often opposed suggestions that she would enter politics, telling German magazine Der Spiegel last year: «I don’t think it’s an idea I want to play with.»

On Monday, however, she presented a different face as she tried to rally her husband’s supporters, suggesting there was no alternative and saying the movement must draw strength from his memory.

“I know it seems impossible to do more, but we must do it – come together with one strong fist and strike with this crazy regime, against Putin, against his friends and bandits in uniform, against these thieves and these killers who have paralyzed our country,” she said.

The dangers and obstacles Ms. Navalnaya faces as she tries to assume her husband’s role and unite opposition to Mr. Putin outside Russia are significant.

The Russian government in 2021 disbanded Mr. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation inside the country by declaring it an extremist organization, sending the group’s top investigators fleeing into exile, where they continue to work and try to reach the Russian public.

Cooperating with the organization from inside Russia amounts to encouraging terrorism, limiting its ability to recruit the type of young rank-and-file members who electrified past efforts. Kremlin supporters have attempted to use the group’s exile to portray it as useless or a puppet of Western security services.

Ms Navalnaya cannot return to Russia without threat of arrest. In June 2023, amid rumors that she might attend one of her husband’s many trials, public broadcaster RT cited an unidentified police source as saying that Ms. Navalnaya could be arrested for supporting an extremist organization if she was coming back. .

And much of Mr. Navalny’s appeal to his supporters was personal, thanks to his unflinching humor, his wicked zeal and his infectious certainty about the ability of individual Russians to change the country in the face of cynicism and repression.

Ms Navalnaya, seething with anger, suggested on Monday that she had no choice but to try. The immediate cause of Mr. Navalny’s death remains a mystery, but his family and team have accused Mr. Putin of killing him during a brutal incarceration.

“By killing Aleksei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul,” Ms Navalnaya said on Monday. “But I still have half left and that tells me I’m not allowed to give up.”

She echoed President Biden’s remarks last week blaming Mr Putin for her husband’s death and suggested Mr Navalny’s team was investigating the circumstances of the death.

“We will name names and show faces,” she said.

She also directly answered a question that many of Mr. Navalny’s supporters asked after his death: why did he return to Russia after his poisoning in 2020, knowing that he would almost certainly be killed?

In theory, she said, Mr. Navalny could have started a new life in exile and stopped speaking out against Russian corruption and fighting.

“But he couldn’t,” she said. “Alexei, more than anything in the world, loved Russia, loved our country and all of you. He believed in us, in our power, in our future and that we deserved better. He believed in it not just in words but in deeds – so deeply and sincerely that he was willing to give his life for it.

Ms Navalnaya said she wanted their two children to live in a free Russia – the “only way so that his unthinkable sacrifice is not in vain”.

His enthusiastic message was widely welcomed by Mr Navalny’s supporters, many of whom have been driven out of the country and feel immobilized by grief.

It came as Russian authorities continued to refuse to hand over Mr Navalny’s body to his mother in a remote Arctic town close to the prison where he died.

Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on Monday that authorities had told his mother that the body would be subjected to a «chemical examination» for another 14 days.

“One of the lawyers was literally kicked out” of the Arctic morgue where Mr. Navalny’s body is believed to be, Ms. Yarmysh said in a publication on social media platform X. She added another message“They lie, make time for themselves and don’t even hide it.”

Russian investigators opened an investigation into the cause of Mr. Navalny’s death shortly after it was reported, a procedural move that allows them to hold the body longer than usual.

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said the delay meant Russian officials were «cleaning up the traces of their crime».

“They are waiting for the wave of hatred and rage against them to calm down,” Mr. Zhdanov said in a message on Telegram, the messaging app.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov on Monday rejected any suggestion of impropriety, saying the investigation into Mr. Navalny’s death was continuing «in accordance with Russian law.»

More than 63,000 people have signed a petition to Russian investigators demanding the release of Mr Navalny’s body, a campaign launched by a Russia-based human rights group, OVD-Info.

Mourners brought flowers to makeshift memorials across Russia, paying tribute to Mr Navalny with an act of mourning that also served as a form of protest in a country where even the slightest dissent can risk detention .

Russian authorities have tried to moderate the scale of public mourning. Flowers were quickly removed from memorials and police arrested hundreds of people.

Russian media have also sought to downplay Mr Navalny’s death, limiting his mention in television broadcasts. Russian officials have accused the West of jumping to conclusions in accusing Mr Putin, describing the allegations as yet another example of Western injustice towards Russia.

Anton Troianovsky and Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.