EU leaders blame Russia for death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in prison on Friday
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in prison on Friday Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button
Copy/paste the article video embed link below:Copy to clipboardCopied

Several EU leaders have said they hold the Kremlin directly responsible for the sudden death of Alexei Navalny.

ADVERTISEMENT

Navalny, 47, the face of Russia's silenced opposition, died in prison on Friday following years of political persecution at the hands of the state.

The EU, which has long saluted Navalny's unwavering fight for Russian democracy, had previously attempted to exert pressure on the Kremlin for its systemic repression of government critics.

EU leaders on Friday pinned blame for Navalny's death - which has rocked Brussels and EU capitals - on Putin's Russia.

"The EU holds the Russian regime (solely) responsible for this tragic death," European Council President Charles Michel said on social media platform X.

Michel's words were echoed by Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs, who said: "Let’s be clear: this is Putin’s sole responsibility."

An official on behalf of the EU's diplomatic arm, headed by Borrell, also said the bloc held Putin's Russia directly accountable for Navalny's passing. 

"Russia took his freedom and his life, but not his dignity," Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, said.

"Alexei Navalny didn't die in prison, he was killed by the Kremlin's brutality and its aim to silence the opposition at any cost," Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda said.

"Alexei Navalny's death is yet another dark reminder of the rogue regime we’re dealing with – and why Russia and all those responsible must be held accountable for each of their crimes," said Estonia's Kaja Kallas, who was listed 'wanted' by the Kremlin earlier this week for what it says are charges relating to historical memory.

"Putin’s regime imprisoned and has now tortured to death one of the last symbols of democracy in Russia," Latvian prime minister Evika Silina said.

"I call on Russia to cease repressing political opposition and release all political prisoners," Silina added.

The three Baltic EU states are staunch backers of Kyiv and have called for harsh EU measures against Russia for its war in Ukraine and repression at home.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was "deeply disturbed" by the news of his death. "A grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are all about," she said.

Tributes also poured in from the Belgian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Polish, Spanish and Swedish leaders.

Greatest threat to Putin exterminated

Navalny was seen as Russian President Vladimir Putin's fiercest political opponent and greatest threat to his grip on power.

He was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought in 2021 for his tireless fight against the corruption and human rights abuses in Russia, despite several attempts by the Kremlin to threaten, torture and poison him.

His daughter Daria Navalnaya, receiving the prize while her father was serving a prison sentence at a Russian forced labour colony, gave the following message to the European Parliament on his behalf: 

"Say that no one can dare to equate Russia to Putin’s regime. Russia is a part of Europe and we strive to become a part of it," she said in 2021.

ADVERTISEMENT

"But we also want Europe to strive for itself, to those amazing ideas, which are at its core. We strive for a Europe of ideas, the celebration of human rights, democracy and integrity.”

In 2020, Navalny was urgently evacuated from a Siberian hospital to Germany, where he was treated after being poisoned with a Novichok-type nerve agent.

Despite the apparent attempt at assassination by the Russian regime, he returned to Russia in 2021, where he was sentenced to 19 years in a penal colony on charges of extremism.

He had initially been serving his sentence in a prison in central Russia, but was transferred late last year to a "special regime" penal colony above the Arctic Circle.

An EU official said Friday Navalny had been "slowly killed" in prison.

ADVERTISEMENT

Death could prompt further sanctions

An senior EU official speaking on condition of anonymity said on Friday that Navalny was someone "we really admired and appreciated" and whose fight the bloc had "followed for years."

But his death also casts a harsh light on the bloc's inability in the years prior to the war in Ukraine to exert sufficient diplomatic pressure on Russia to comply with its human rights obligations.

In 2021, a year before the start of the war, the bloc slapped sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, on Russian officials responsible for Navalny's detention under the so-called Magnitsky act.

Further sanctions were imposed on individuals involved in Navalny's chemical poisoning in November 2022, eight months following the invasion of Ukraine.

His death will be discussed when EU foreign ministers gather in Brussels on Monday.

ADVERTISEMENT

The official added that the bloc was "ready to see if we can list (sanction) more people involved in this murder."

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Who was Alexei Navalny? And how did he become Putin's fiercest opponent?

If not Ursula, then who? Seven in the wings for Commission top job

How will the next European Parliament work differently?