Russia is twisting the knife after Navalny's sudden death

Police officers detain Navalny during a protest in Moscow in 2012
Police officers detain Alexey Navalny during a protest in Moscow in 2012.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/Getty Images
  • Alexey Navalny's mother claims Russia is blackmailing her with his burial conditions.

  • Navalny's death and subsequent treatment are seen as displays of performative cruelty.

  • World leaders, including President Biden, hold Putin responsible.

The mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny claims that the Kremlin will "do something to his body" unless she agrees to bury him in a secret funeral.

Navalny, who was Vladimir Putin's longtime political nemesis, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last week at the age of 47.

The Kremlin denied involvement but international leaders have pointed the finger firmly at Putin. Joe Biden said that there was "no doubt" that the Russian president was to blame.

Rather than shy away amid such accusations, Putin has become bolder than ever. He appears to be flexing his unrivaled power with performative cruelty and firmly twisting the knife after Navalny's death.

In a video message posted on her son's YouTube channel, Lyudmila Navalnaya said: "According to the law, they should have given me Alexey's body right away, but they haven't done it yet. Instead, they blackmail me and set conditions for where, when, and how Alexey should be buried."

In an update posted to X on Friday, Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokesperson, said that Navalnaya had been given a new ultimatum: Agree to a secret funeral within three hours, or "Alexey will be buried in the colony."

"She is demanding compliance with the law, according to which investigators are obliged to hand over the body within two days of establishing the cause of death," Yarmysh wrote.

"According to the medical documents she signed, these two days expire tomorrow."

Navalnaya had unsuccessfully been trying to retrieve her son's body since Saturday. She was previously sent to the wrong morgue after multiple demands for the authorities to hand over her son's body, according to Yarmysh.

Yarmysh added that Navalnaya was denied access to a morgue in Salekhard, the capital of the Arctic Yamalo-Nenets region, on Monday morning.

"Alexey's mother and his lawyers arrived at the morgue early in the morning," Yarmysh posted on X. "They were not allowed to go in. One of the lawyers was literally pushed out. When the staff was asked if Alexey's body was there, they did not answer."

The Kremlin has not yet responded to the allegations.

Lyudmila Navalnaya
Lyudmila Navalnaya spoke in a video message about allegedly being blackmailed by Russian authorities.Lyudmila Navalnaya/YouTube

On Thursday, Navalnaya said she had seen her son's body a day earlier at the morgue in Salekhard.

"This kind of abuse of a dead body is hard to even imagine," Ivan Zhdanov, a friend of the Navalny family, said in a statement to The Guardian.

Navalny's death — and the way the authorities have handled his body — are displays of his authoritarian power.

It follows Putin's attempts to humiliate Navalny when he was alive by never referring to him by name. The Guardian reported that he would often mention his political nemesis as "a poor excuse for a politician," "a certain political force," or "this gentleman" instead.

Putin is only known to have mentioned Navalny's name once, during a private conversation with the journalist Alec Luhn in 2013. When asked if he deliberately refrained from saying his name, Putin responded: "No, why? Alexey Navalny is one of leaders of the opposition movement," according to a post on X by Luhn.

According to Simon Miles, a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, rather than simply displaying Putin's power, such tactics may be disadvantageous to his image in the long term.

"If a guy locked up in the gulag is too high a threat to live, that tells me Putin thinks his position is extremely vulnerable," Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, previously told BI.

"You have total control over this person's life, and you choose to extinguish it?" he added. "That's coercive power, not an impressive form of power."

Navalny's representatives said the death certificate stated he died of "natural causes." The world, however, may never know the truth.

"What has happened to Navalny is even more proof of Putin's brutality. No one should be fooled," Biden told reporters shortly after Navalny's death was announced.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in a statement that the West's reaction is "hysteria," The Guardian reported.

This comes after hundreds of protesters gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg to pay their respects to Navalny over the weekend. Russian human-rights group COVD-info said at least 100 people were arrested across eight cities, Sky News reported on Saturday.

Navalny's death was meant to send a message to Russian dissidents. The Kremlin's subsequent actions show that it is relishing in showing off its power.

Representatives for the Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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