Putin critic Navalny’s mother says she has been shown his body – but won’t be blackmailed into secret burial

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Alexei Navalny’s mother has said she has finally been shown his body almost a week after his death in an Arctic prison – but that that Russian authorities were seeking to “blackmail” her into burying him in a secret ceremony without mourners.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, said that she was taken to the city morgue and that officials told her that if she didn’t agree to a secret funeral, they would “do something” to her son’s body. “They want this to be done secretly, with no farewell. They want to bring me to the edge of a cemetery, to a fresh grave and say: here lies your son. I don’t agree to this,” she said.

A number of Western leaders have accused Vladimir Putin and Russian authorities of killing Mr Navalny, the Russian president’s most prominent critic. Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia, has said she believes her husband was poisoned and that Russian authorities are keeping hold of the body to let traces of the nerve agent novichok leave Mr Navalny’s system. “My husband was unbreakable. And that’s precisely why Putin killed him,” she said earlier this week.

Mr Navalny was moved to the remote “Polar Wolf” Arctic prison late last year and faced multiple sentences on charges the international community and Mr Navalny’s supporters believe were trumped up to try and silence him. His death came a month before a presidential election where Mr Putin is expected to easily claim re-election, a vote that Mr Navalny repeatedly railed against, even in prison.

Dressed in black for a video posted on YouTube, from the Arctic city of Salekhard, Lyudmila Navalnaya said: “The investigators claim that they know the cause of death, they have all the medical and legal documents ready, which I saw, and I signed the medical death certificate.

Navalny’s family and team have accused Putin and the Kremlin of murdering him (EPA)
Navalny’s family and team have accused Putin and the Kremlin of murdering him (EPA)

“According to the law, they should have given me Alexei’s body right away, but they have not done so until now. Instead, they are blackmailing me, setting me conditions on where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal.”

She added: “I’m recording this video because they started threatening me. Looking into my eyes, they say that if I don’t agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body.”

She quoted one of the investigators as saying: “Time is not on your side, corpses decompose.”

“I don’t want special conditions,” she said. “I just want everything to be done according to the law. I demand that my son’s body be returned to me immediately.”

The opposition leader’s team said on X/Twitter on Thursday that Navalny’s death certificate says he died of natural causes, while they accuse the Russian state of murdering him. Russian authorities said in announcing the death last week that the 47-year-old politician fell unconscious and died suddenly while out for a walk, while serving his latest near two-decades-long prison sentence.

Mr Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after receiving life-saving treatment in Germany from novichok poisoning, an attack he blamed on the Kremlin.

Western leaders have lined up to condemn the Kremlin over the killing of Navalny. Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, used a meeting at the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro to confront his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and say to his face that Russia murdered the opposition leader. Lord Cameron said Mr Lavrov refused to meet his gaze and instead looked at his phone.

A view of IK-3 prison where Navalny was being held (EPA)
A view of IK-3 prison where Navalny was being held (EPA)

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Cameron said that representatives for France, Canada and Germany joined him in using speeches to name Mr Navalny and say they hold President Putin and the Russian state at large responsible for his murder. The meeting occurred behind closed doors, with each nation present getting five minutes to speak.

On Wednesday, the UK froze the assets of six Russian prison bosses in charge of the “Polar Wolf” prison colony, becoming the first country to issue sanctions over the killing of Navalny – saying that those responsible for his “brutal treatment” will be held to account.

Lyudmila Navalnaya had travelled to the remote IK-3 prison after her son’s death was announced last Friday but had been prevented from seeing his body – with the Kremlin appearing to be trying to ensure a funeral for Mr Navalny does not turn into a public show of support for his ideals.

On Tuesday, she appealed to Mr Putin directly in a video, saying: “Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body be released immediately so that I can bury him in a humane way.”

The following day, a court in Russia’s far north agreed to hear her case on 4 March, over two weeks after his death.

More than 75,000 people have submitted requests to the government asking for his remains to be handed over to his relatives, according to human rights group OVD-Info.

In a post on Thursday, Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia, said on her Instagram account that she had flown to visit her 20-year-old daughter, Dasha, a student at Stanford University.

“My dear girl, I came to hug you and support you, and you sit and support me,” she wrote under a photo of herself and her daughter lying on a carpet.

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, with her daughter Dasha Navalnay (via Reuters)
Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny, with her daughter Dasha Navalnay (via Reuters)

Describing her daughter as “strong, brave and resilient”, Ms Navalnaya said the family would “definitely cope with everything”. She also has a 15-year-old son, Zakhar.

In a nine-minute video earlier in the week, Yulia said Mr Navalny had been killed because Mr Putin couldn’t “break him” and vowed to continue his political activism.

“I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” she said. “I urge you to stand next to me. I ask you to share the rage with me. Rage, anger, hatred towards those who dared to kill our future.”

Also on Thursday, imprisoned opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza urged Russians not to give up after Mr Navalny’s death. He alleged that a state-backed hit squad was taking out the Kremlin’s political opponents, according to a video posted to social media.

A British-Russian citizen, Mr Kara-Murza is serving a 25-year sentence for treason at Penal Colony No 7 in the Siberian city of Omsk. His comments came as he appeared via a video link in a court hearing over a complaint against Russia’s Investigative Committee for what he believes were two poisoning attempts against him. He alleges the committee didn’t properly investigate the attempts.

Mr Kara-Murza was convicted of criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and was handed a stiff sentence as part of a crackdown against critics of the war and freedom of speech.

“We owe it ... to our fallen comrades to continue to work with even greater strength and achieve what they lived and died for,” he said in the video, which was shared by the Russian Sota Telegram channel.

Mr Kara-Murza says the attempts to poison him took place in 2015 and 2017. In the first, he nearly died of kidney failure, although no cause was determined. He was hospitalised with a similar illness in 2017 and put into a medically induced coma. His wife said doctors confirmed he was poisoned.

Mr Kara-Murza’s latest hearing came after months of postponements. In January, he was moved from another prison in Siberia and placed in solitary confinement over an alleged minor infraction.

According to the video shared by Sota, Mr Kara-Murza alleged there is a “death squad within the Federal Security Service, a group of professional killers in the service of the state, whose task is to physically eliminate political opponents of the Putin regime”.

The Russian president himself has yet to say anything about Mr Navalny’s death but, after a flight on board a bomber that is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, he called comments from Joe Biden that he was a “crazy SOB” as “rude”.