World leaders’ reactions to Alexei Navalny’s death

Malta reacted with shock to the news of the death of the Russian Opposition figure, as they called on Moscow to be clear about how he died suddenly.

The international reaction to the death of prominent Russian Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was swift. World leaders and senior officials, exiled Russians, and Kremlin watchers praised his activism and, in many cases, laid blame squarely on the Russian government’s shoulders.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service said Navalny, who was 47, lost consciousness after taking a walk in the remote Arctic prison where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges that have widely been condemned as “politically motivated”. For the past decade, Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation have formed the main domestic opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Whenever Putin spoke about Navalny, he made it a point to never mention the activist by name, referring to him as “that person” or similar wording, in an apparent effort to diminish his importance.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been told about Navalny’s death. He deemed the Western reaction “unacceptable”, “out of control”, and “absolutely rabid”, while “there are no statements from doctors, no information from forensic experts, no definitive information from the Federal Penitentiary Service, no information on the cause of the death”.

Russia’s investigative committee said it had launched a procedural probe into the death. Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, wrote on her Telegram channel that the West had already arrived at “conclusions” without forensic evidence. She said the immediate reactions “in the form of direct accusations against Russia are self-revealing”. The Foreign Ministry asked why the death in a Ukrainian prison last month of a journalist with dual Chilean and American citizenship, Gonzalo Lira, did not provoke the same reactions from Washington.

Maltese reaction

Malta reacted with shock to the news of the death of the Russian Opposition figure, as they called on Moscow to be clear about how he died suddenly.

President George Vella wrote: “I am deeply concerned at the news of the passing of Alexei Navalny. All the details concerning his death need to be urgently clarified by Russian authorities.”

OSCE Chair-in-Office, Maltese Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg, said Malta wanted Russian authorities “to provide clarity regarding the circumstances of his death”, as he offered Navalny’s family the country’s condolences. Malta currently holds the role of chair of the OSCE, the largest regional security organisation in the world, which also includes Russia.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela said news of Navalny’s death was “devastating” and described the Russian as a “staunch champion of democracy”.

Opposition leader Bernard Grech said Navalny’s fight for democracy and transparency will not be forgotten. “Our thoughts are with his family and those who stand for freedom in Russia and around the world.”

“Murder”

Navalny’s supporters see the charges that had been brought against him as stemming from his criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny’s deputy, Ivan Zhdanov, said on X that relatives of Navalny should be notified of his death within 24 hours, but no notifications had been made. Kira Yarmysh, a spokesperson for Navalny, said his lawyer was on the way to the IK-3 penal colony, located in Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region. Navalny aide Leonid Volkov said Russian authorities published “a confession that they killed” him in prison.

Speaking to Reuters, Russian newspaper editor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov called the death “murder” and said he believed prison conditions had led to Navalny’s demise.

Some were skeptical of the news from Moscow. Kira Yarmysh, the spokesperson for the Opposition leader, said she had no confirmation, and that Navalny’s lawyer was flying to the prison to get more information.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, said that if the news was true, she holds Putin, his friends, and government responsible for all the “awful things” committed in Russia. “We cannot believe Putin and his government because they lie incessantly. But, if it is indeed true, then I would like to say the following: Putin and all those who work for him, his entire entourage, his friends, I want them to know that they will not go unpunished. They will be punished for what they have done to our country, for what they have done to my family, for what they have done to my husband.” She called for the world to “unite and fight this evil … the horrific regime in Russia.”

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, is quoted by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta as saying on Facebook she didn’t want any condolences yet. She saw her son in a meeting at the prison on Monday and he was “alive, healthy, and happy”.

The UN

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was shocked, and urged a “full, credible, and transparent investigation”. The UN Human Rights Office spokesperson, Liz Throssell, issued a sharp statement as well, saying the office is “appalled at the news”. She said the UN High Commissioner for human rights had previously noted Navalny’s sentence “raised questions about judicial harassment and instrumentalisation of the court system for political purposes in Russia.” She added: “If someone dies in the custody of the State, the presumption is that the State is responsible,” and urged for the need of “a credible investigation by an independent body.”

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Alice Edwards, said she and several UN independent experts had urged the Russian government to end Navalny’s punitive prison conditions, called for an investigation into “credible allegations of torture against Mr. Navalny”, and urged authorities to ensure he got medical treatment. “That our appeals to the Kremlin were ignored so blatantly, and with such disregard for human life, is a tragedy for Mr Navalny, his family and supporters. It is also a bleak day for the rule of law, free expression and human rights.”

NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply saddened” by the news, but he urged patience until all the facts are clear and Russia can answer about all the circumstances of Navalny’s death.

The EU

The European Union also holds the Kremlin responsible. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote: “He was slowly murdered by President Putin and his regime, who fear nothing more than dissent from their own people. We will spare no efforts to hold the Russian political leadership and authorities to account.”

EU Council President Charles Michel said on X that Navalny fought for the values of freedom and democracy. For his ideals, he made the ultimate sacrifice. The EU holds the Russian regime solely responsible for this tragic death.”

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola tweeted: “Russia took Alexei Navalny’s freedom and life but not his dignity. The world has lost a fighter whose courage will echo through generations. His struggle for democracy lives on.”

Italy

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the death of Navalny in the Russian Kharp prison represents the worst and most unjust conclusion of a human and political story that has shaken the consciences of world public opinion – an “unfair and unacceptable price, which brings back memories of the darkest times in history”. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hoped that “full clarity will be made on this disturbing event”.

The Vatican

Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said: “Navalny’s death amazes and pains us; I’m very sorry. This news surprises us and fills us with pain.”

The US

Speaking at the White House, US President Joe Biden said he was “both not surprised and outraged” by the news of Navalny’s death. Biden called Navalny a powerful voice for the truth, and praised him for his courage in standing up to the Kremlin. “Russian authorities are going to tell their own story. But, make no mistake, make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death… We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Nalvany was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did.”

US Vice-President Kamala Harris has blamed the Kremlin for Navalny’s reported death, as tributes poured in from US lawmakers. Speaking in Munich, Ms Harris said that Russia is responsible “whatever the story they tell”.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the same Munich conference, that Navalny’s “death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built. Russia is responsible for this.”

Ben Cardin, the chair of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement in which he said Navalny’s reported death “is not just a tragedy for the Russian people, but a profound loss felt across the international community”.

In her comments, Republican US Presidential contender Nikki Haley sent a jibe to her opponent: “Donald Trump continues to side with Vladimir Putin – a man who kills his political opponents, holds American journalists hostage, and has never hidden his desire to destroy America.”

France

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “In today’s Russia, free spirits are put in the Gulag and sentenced to death.”

Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, writing on X, said Navalny stood up for democracy and freedom in Russia – and apparently paid for his courage with his life. “I met Navalny here in Berlin when he was trying to recover in Germany from the poison attack and also talked to him about the great courage it takes to return to his country.”  German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, on X, wrote: “Like no one else, Alexei Navalny was a symbol for a free and democratic Russia. That is precisely the reason why he had to die.”

Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “It is obvious that he was killed by Putin.” He said the Russian President doesn’t care who dies so long as his position as Head of State is secure.

Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the news reminds the world what a “monster” Putin is. “It really shows the extent to which Putin has [or] will crack down on anyone who is fighting for freedom for the Russian people,” Trudeau told Canadian public broadcaster CBC. “And it’s something that has the entire world being reminded of exactly what a monster Putin is.”

The UK

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on X, said: “This is terrible news. As the fiercest advocate for Russian democracy, Alexei Navalny demonstrated incredible courage throughout his life.” The British government has summoned diplomats from the Russian embassy to say that the Russian authorities are held “fully responsible” for the death Navalny. Britain’s Foreign Office said in its statement that Navalny’s death in his Arctic prison must be subject to a full and transparent investigation.”.

Sweden

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said: “The Russian authorities, and President Putin personally, are responsible for Alexei Navalny no longer being alive.”

The Netherlands

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said: “Navalny fought for democratic values and against corruption. He had to pay for his struggle with death while he was held under the harshest and most inhumane conditions.”

Latvia

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs said: “Whatever your thoughts about Alexei Navalny as the politician, he 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.”

Czechia

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said: “Russia has turned into a violent state that kills people who dream of a better future, like Nemtsov or now Navalny – imprisoned and tortured to death for standing up to Putin. Rest in peace”.

(The information for this round-up has been gathered from sites including NPR, Reuters, CNN, BBC, Ansa, Times of Malta, and The Malta Independent – Ed.)

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