Evidence mounts Navalny didn’t die from natural causes

Evidence mounts Navalny didn’t die from natural causes
Evidence is mounting that Navalny did not die of natural causes, although little hard information is available / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 19, 2024

Evidence that opposition blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny didn’t die from natural causes is mounting as more information emerges from the circumstances surrounding his death on February 16.

“The inmate A. A. Navalny started to feel unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness at correctional facility No. 3 on February 16,” the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district prison service said in a press release shortly after the event, “Medical staff arrived immediately, an ambulance was called. None of the resuscitation efforts yielded positive results.”

During the day, almost nothing new appeared in official sources about the circumstances of Navalny’s death in comparison with this message - except for Interfax’s conversation with a representative of the hospital in the city of Labytnangi, the closest to Navalny’s colony. He said that the ambulance arrived at the colony in seven minutes, reached Navalny in two minutes, and then tried to resuscitate him for more than half an hour.

Questions have been raised since. The official statement said that he died at 2:17pm, but the press release appeared on the penal system’s website only two minutes later, according to the page’s time stamp.

The time stamp on the press release from Russia’s prison service confirming Navalny’s death was released only two minutes after the statement claimed that he was officially pronounced dead.

He was also not placed in the prison’s morgue but taken by convoy to another facility later in the day, according to Russia opposition Mediazona that monitored the traffic cam footage from around the prison.

There were also reports that the local doctors refused to perform an autopsy. According to the official accounts, Navalny was killed by a blood clot entering his brain and suddenly killed him. However, while Navalny had lost a lot of weight in prison, he appeared in court by video link the day before and appeared well and in good humour, cracking jokes with the judges and entered into a lively debate with the court officers.

Doctors interviewed by Russian opposition media said that Navalny had not been reported to be suffering from any condition that could cause the deadly blood clot. Moreover, they said it is impossible to determine that a blood clot killed him without performing an autopsy.

Human rights activist Anna Karetnikova, who worked for many years in the commission for monitoring the observance of human rights in colonies, noted that in the FSIN system “pulmonary embolism” is a universal diagnosis that explains any death that they do not want to understand, The Bell reports. 

The publication Baza, citing its sources, wrote that Navalny became ill at about 13:00 local time (that is, around 11:00 Moscow time), and he died at 14:17 local time. But, as Radio Liberty journalist Sergei Nemalevich noted, Navalny himself, after being transferred to the colony in Kharp, said that walks in the punishment cell begin at 6:30 in the morning - this means that with such a timing, Navalny could not get sick after the walk.

Likewise, there were reports of two unscheduled flights arriving at the prison the same day, fuelling speculation that the Kremlin has sent its own medical staff to perform the autopsy.

According to reports by the opposition media, citing a prison worker who has seen Navalny’s body in the morgue, his body bears bruises that were presumed to be from guarding holding him down during convulsions. There were also bruises on his chest, presumed to be from prison doctors performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Mediazona managed to track the FSIN motorcade at the ice crossing across the Ob on the way to Salekhard on the night of February 17. The crossing is the only way to the capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug not only from special regime colony No. 3 in the village of Kharp, but also from the city of Labytnangi, so the situation there is broadcast online by public web cameras. It is very likely that the unusual motorcade was transporting the body of the main Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and keeping it away from his family. 

This means that the body was already in Salekhard the night before his mother Lyudmila and the lawyers arrived there. “We don’t know where the politician’s body could have been taken after the crossing, but it is obvious that it was deliberately hidden from his relatives,” writes Mediazona.

Navalny’s body was transported not to the forensic medical examination bureau, but to the morgue of the Salekhard district clinical hospital. “They took me to the morgue, brought me in, and then two police officers stood in front of the door. “Something mysterious is going on here,” the resource quotes a local ambulance officer, reports The Bell. 

According to the newspaper, as of Saturday no autopsy had been performed, and all decisions and communications were taken over by representatives of the central apparatus of the Investigative Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service who arrived from Moscow. 

Putin murdered Navalny

The commentary that has followed the announcement of his death has universally blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death, either directly ordering it, or at least pointing out that even if Navalny died of natural causes, Putin is responsible for the death by jailing a leading political opponent and holding him in harsh conditions.

“What makes this so suspicious is the nature of the death is so similar to what happened to him on the plane in Siberia [in August 2021 when he was first poisoned with Novichok],” a diplomat told bne IntelliNews on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference the next day when the news was announced. “He suddenly collapsed again and lost consciousness after apparently being fine. If this was a deliberate murder then it was designed to send a clear message to all the opposition ahead of the [March presidential] elections warning them what will happen to them if they oppose the Kremlin.”

Several other opposition leaders remain in jail. Of them Vladimir Kara-Murza is in the most danger of dying. Also poisoned twice, allegedly by the state, Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in jail last year for denouncing the war in Ukraine and was already in poor health due to the previous attempt to assassinate him.

Ilya Yashin was the last prominent opposition left inside Russia, but he too was jailed and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison in December 2022.

Ilya Yashin was jailed and sentenced to 8.5 years in prison in December 2022.

Navalny’s death has not yet been independently verified; his family and staff are waiting for his lawyer, Leonid Solovyov, to confirm by visiting the IK-3 prison colony where he was being held. Navalny was 47 years old.

Navalny’s cause of death has not been officially confirmed and waits for the results of the autopsy. His health had been deteriorating during his time in prison, and harsh conditions may have contributed to his untimely death. He has spent about half of his time in prison in solitary confinement, and he was recently transferred to the Arctic penal colony known for its particularly severe conditions.

Navalny briefly went on hunger strike when he was refused medical treatment for leg and back pains he claimed to be suffering from, due to health complications that resulted from the previous assassination attempt.

US President Joe Biden held a press conference about Navalny’s death in which he called him a “powerful voice for the truth” and said, “Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. What happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov dismissed claims the Kremlin were behind the death and the Kremlin has adopted the spin that “Navalny was not important enough for us to kill him," led by RT CEO Margarita Simonyan.

“...There was no point in killing him, especially before the elections,” she wrote on X, pointing out that this would benefit not the Russian authorities, but “completely the opposite.” 

Peskov railled against the widespread claims that the Krmelin ordered the killing. 

“There is no statement from doctors, no information from forensic experts, no final information from the Federal Penitentiary Service, no information about the causes of death. And there are such statements,” Peskov said was indignant at the solidarity reaction of the West. “It’s obvious that they are absolutely rabid.” We consider such statements absolutely unacceptable. They are unacceptable."

On the day of her husband’s death, Yulia Navalnaya spoke at the Munich Security Conference , her face grey with pain. A few hours after the news from the Federal Penitentiary Service appeared, she made a short statement and received a standing ovation from the audience: “I don’t know whether to believe or not this terrible news that we receive only from Russian government sources. For many years we cannot trust Putin and the Putin government. They always lie. But if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around him to know that they will be held accountable for everything they did to our country, to my family.”

Complex figure

While Navalny is a very prominent opposition leader in Western eyes, his role in Russia is more complicated. According to polls, the Russian electorate didn’t take him very seriously as a possible presidential candidate, but he was widely known and well respected as an anti-corruption activist.

Navalny was widely respected as an anti-corruption activist, but he commanded less respect from the Russian population as a political figure, according to the independent pollster, the Levada Center.

Following his arrest in January 2021 there were two mass protests, but polling at the time showed that most of those that came out onto the streets were protesting against the Kremlin’s brutal treatment of an opposition leader, rather than to support Navalny per se. An attempt by Navalny’s colleagues to organise a third rally in the spring as the weather warmed failed to reach critical mass.

The domestic political risks associated with Navalny’s murder are also small. Director of the Levada Center Denis Volkov, in a conversation with The Bell on February 17, confidently said that there is no point in expecting serious protests in Russia now: the protest as a whole is felt as dangerous, useless, and the popularity of Navalny himself since 2021, when he turned out to be in conclusion, decreased. “By the beginning of 2023, he had already dropped out of the top ten most trusted politicians. After this, Navalny's rating fluctuated in an open question at 1%. The lowest figure is January 2024,” Volkov said.

But the inevitable decline in interest in Navalny after he was imprisoned did not mean that he ceased to be a long-term threat in the eyes of the Kremlin. “When the situation itself turned towards greater authoritarianism, people’s faith in any changes dried up,” the Volkov said. 

Following his death there were small protests around the country where regular Russians tried to lay flowers at various memorials to the fall or to victims of oppression but were quickly shooed away by the police. Hundreds gathered in Moscow and St. Petersburg to pay their respects despite freezing weather and the threat of arrest. OVD-Info reports that more than 100 people have already been detained for honouring Navalny and many have been given 15 days administrative jail terms for civil disobedience.

Who dunnit? 

The reaction of Russian propaganda and second-line officials boils down to two theses: the West is to blame for Navalny’s death, and the Kremlin did not benefit from his murder. 

The first thesis, suggesting that the West was able to reach the most guarded Russian prisoner in one of the most distant colonies, is too absurd to talk about. The second thesis is traditional: the Kremlin’s non-involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov was explained in exactly the same way in 2015. But it will be very difficult to argue this thesis in the case of Alexei Navalny it has already been convincingly shown the Kremlin has already tried to kill Navalny at least once in August 2020.