Navalny’s widow accuses Putin of killing him and vows to continue his work

By Sebastian Shukla, CNN

CNN  —  The widow of the Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny on Monday accused President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his death and indicated she will pick up her husband’s mantle, for a “happy, beautiful Russia.”

Yulia Navalnaya posted an eight-minute video on her dead husband’s social media outlets Monday, saying Putin “killed the father of my children, Putin took away the most precious thing that was my closest and most beloved person.”

She said Russian authorities were “hiding” Navalny’s body in an attempt to disguise the cause of his death – “lying pathetically” and waiting for “traces of another of Putin’s Novichoks to disappear.”

Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmish, said on social media that his body will not be released for another 14 days. She added that his body will be under “some sort of chemical examination” during that period.

While Western condemnation continues, the news of Navalny’s death leaves the fate of the country’s opposition movement looking the bleakest in decades. With Navalny gone, it appears Navalnaya is angling to pick up the mantle while living in exile. This is a position she has usually shied away from, preferring to be seen as a supportive wife and mother to their two children. On Monday she was meeting EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium.

“I will continue the work of Alexey Navalny,” Navalnaya said in her video, before adding, “I am not afraid, and you don’t need to be afraid of anything.” Speaking entirely in Russian, the message was directed towards the Russian people.

Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent, in August 2020. A CNN and Bellingcat investigation later uncovered an FSB hit squad that planted the poison on his underwear. The Kremlin repeatedly denied any involvement.

Navalnaya didn’t provide any evidence to support her claim that a second poisoning was the cause of her husband’s unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony on Friday.

“We know exactly why Putin killed Alexey three days ago. We’ll tell you about it soon. We will definitely also find out who committed this crime and how exactly. We’ll name their names and show their faces,” she said.

The Kremlin has said an investigation into the circumstances around Navalny’s death is “underway,” and the results are currently “unknown.”

Navalny was Russia’s highest-profile opposition leader. He had spent years speaking out against Putin, who has been in power for nearly a quarter of a century, and alleged Kremlin corruption at great personal risk. Many of the Russian strongman’s enemies have died under mysterious circumstances.

After his poisoning, Navalny returned to Russia in 2021. He was swiftly arrested on his arrival on charges he dismissed as politically motivated. He spent the rest of his life behind bars, with longstanding concerns for his welfare growing more intense after he was transferred to a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle.

News of Navalny’s death was met with shock and outrage among Western democracies, including US President Joe Biden.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was the consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did,” Biden said when asked by a reporter if Navalny’s death was an assassination.

Inside Russia, crowds turned out at makeshift memorials to honor the 47-year-old despite the risks associated with voicing political dissent. Hundreds were reportedly arrested.

Who is Yulia Navalnaya

Navalnaya had lived outside the spotlight before her husband’s poisoning in 2020.

The couple met shortly after Navalnaya, a Moscow native and the daughter of a scientist and an employee of the state consumer-goods ministry, graduated from Plekhanov University of Economics, where she studied international relations. She worked in a bank before leaving to care for their eldest daughter, Darya.

Returning from maternity leave, Navalnaya helped her parents-in-law sell furniture for a few years, but after her and Navalny’s son, Zakhar, was born – and with Navalny increasingly in the spotlight – she decided to focus solely on the family.

It was Navalny’s poisoning, that forced Navalnaya to step into public view. To save her husband’s life, she moved quickly to put international pressure on the Kremlin government to allow him to leave Russia for treatment. She held impromptu news conferences on the doorstep of the Russian clinic where Navalny lay comatose and wrote directly to Putin, the man she accused of attempting to kill her partner, asking that he allow Navalny to depart the country.

Putin later said he “immediately gave the order” to let Navalny go when he received Navalnaya’s letter.

Her stoic and collected leadership during the ordeal prompted speculation among Navalny’s supporters whether she might lead the country’s opposition movement one day.

CNN’s Joshua Berlinger contributed to this report.

This story has been updated.

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