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Russia orders arrest of Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Putin’s arch enemy

Russia orders arrest of Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Putin’s arch enemy

In a sign of disregard for Russia’s largely wiped out political opposition, Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of late opposition leader Alexei Navalny, demanded that President Vladimir Putin be held accountable for her husband’s death. Lawyers for jailed Putin critic Vladimir Kara-Murza also called for his release from prison due to his poor health.

A Russian court ordered Navalnaya’s arrest on Tuesday – an unlikely move given that she no longer lives in Russia and has not returned to the country since her husband’s sudden death in an Arctic prison in February.

Navalnaya personally accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of murdering her husband and repeated this accusation in her response to her arrest warrant.

“When you write about this, please do not forget to write the most important thing: Vladimir Putin is a murderer and a war criminal,” Navalnaya posted on X, formerly Twitter. “His place is in prison, and not somewhere in The Hague, in a cozy cell with a TV, but in Russia – in the same colony and the same 2 by 3 by 3 meter cell in which he killed Alexei,” she added.

The Kremlin denied that Putin was involved in Navalny’s death, and Russian authorities issued a death certificate stating that the cause of death was natural.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Kara-Murza, a prominent Putin critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist serving a 25-year prison sentence for treason, said Wednesday they had finally been able to visit him after being unreachable for six days following his transfer to a prison hospital.

The lawyers demanded that Kara-Murza be released from prison given his precarious health condition.

It is unlikely that Navalnaya will ever end up in a Russian prison, but the decision to issue the arrest warrant on the same day that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Moscow on a state visit sent a clear message to Putin’s critics, including in Washington.

Unlike President Biden, who condemned Navalny’s death and blamed Putin for it, Modi said nothing at the time. When asked about Navalny’s death, a spokesperson for Modi’s political party Bharatiya Janata reiterated India’s close ties with Russia and also stressed that India had expressed its opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The arrest warrant accused Navalnaya of joining an “extremist” group – her husband’s political anti-corruption organization – and demonstrated that the Kremlin continues to focus on Navalny, who had become Putin’s arch-enemy and fiercest opponent even months after his death at the age of 47.

Navalny survived a poisoning attack by Russian agents with an internationally banned chemical weapon in 2020, but was arrested upon his return to Russia in January 2021 after recovering in a Berlin hospital. He was held mostly in isolation cells while authorities filed new charges and criminal proceedings against him. He was eventually transferred to the Polar Wolf prison colony near the Arctic Circle, where he died in February.

Navalnaya was her husband’s confidante and closest adviser for years but kept a low profile in public, saying she was focused on her two children. But just hours after news of her husband’s death, she dramatically stepped into the spotlight by delivering a surprise speech to world leaders gathered at the Munich Security Conference.

“I want Putin and everyone around him, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband. And that day will come very soon,” she said.

A few days later, she released a video message urging Navalny’s supporters not to give up the fight against Putin’s authoritarian rule, hoping to maintain the momentum of Navalny’s movement. She said she would take the lead in that effort.

“I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work. … I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” she said. “I ask you to share the anger with me. The anger, the rage, the hatred towards those who dare to destroy our future.”

A statement from Moscow’s Basmanny Court did not specify the exact content of the charges, but they appear to be linked to a 2021 ruling declaring three organizations founded by her husband “extremist.” This includes the Anti-Corruption Foundation, which has published several investigations into ill-gotten wealth and corrupt dealings by members of Putin’s inner circle.

These investigations, some of which were chronicled in dramatic videos viewed millions of times on YouTube, prompted thousands of Russians to take part in protests over the years.

Russian authorities have labelled numerous independent movements and non-governmental organisations as “extremist”, suggesting that they seek to undermine the country’s “constitutional order” – a thinly veiled pretext to break up organisations seen as a threat to Putin’s quarter-century-long rule.

Since Navalny’s funeral in March, which his widow was unable to attend, Navalnaya has met with numerous world leaders, including Biden. In July, she was elected chair of the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes human rights around the world.

Kara-Murza’s lawyers said Russian authorities had prevented them from visiting him in the hospital where he had been taken. Kara-Murza, who is suffering from health complications after two poisonings, is in prison in the Siberian city of Omsk, more than 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) from Moscow.

One of his lawyers, Vadim Prohkorov, again called for Kara-Murza’s release from the penal colony due to his precarious health condition.

“Vladimir Kara-Murza’s health is currently relatively stable. But he suffers from a serious chronic disease that prevents him from serving his sentence in a correctional colony – polyneuropathy,” Prokhorov wrote in a Facebook post. The disease is a malfunction of the peripheral nerves throughout the body.

In one of his last letters from prison, Kara-Murza wrote to a friend: “For me as a historian, the present in general is very reminiscent of the ‘dark seven years’ at the end of the reign of Nicholas I. The darkest time.”