Russia issues arrest warrant for Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Alexei Navalny

Author: Julian Borger and Andrew Roth in Washington Source: The Guardian
July 10, 2024 at 05:58
Yulia Navalnaya at a polling station near the Russian embassy in Berlin in March. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Yulia Navalnaya at a polling station near the Russian embassy in Berlin in March. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Russia has issued an arrest warrant for Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Alexei Navalny and a leading dissident living in exile, imposing a two-month detention order on grounds that she participated in an “extremist” group.

The warrant was issued in absentia by a Moscow court on Tuesday, five months after Navalny died in a Russian Arctic penal colony. Navalnaya held the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, responsible for her husband’s death.

In Russia, the label “extremist” is routinely applied to dissident or independent civic groups by courts, which typically carry out the wishes of the Kremlin in political cases.

Since Navalny’s death, Navalnaya has lived in an undisclosed location outside Russia with the couple’s two children. Writing on the X social media platform on Tuesday she told her supporters not to be distracted by the court order against her, but to focus on the broader campaign against Putin.

“When you write about this, please don’t forget to write the main thing: Vladimir Putin is a murderer and a war criminal,” Navalnaya wrote.

“His place is in prison, and not somewhere in The Hague, in a cosy cell with a TV, but in Russia – in the same (penal) colony and the same 2 by 3 metre cell in which he killed Alexei.”

Navalny was serving a 19-year prison sentence in the Russian Arctic for his leading role in opposition to Putin. In August 2020 he fell violently ill on a Russian internal flight, as a result of poisoning with the nerve agent novichok. He was evacuated to Germany for emergency medical care and recovered. On 17 January 2021, Navalny returned to Russia by plane from Germany and was detained on landing in Moscow.

Three days after Navalny’s death in custody, the 47-year-old Navalnaya took on his mantle of leadership, broadcasting a nine-minute video message vowing to continue his resistance to Putin’s dictatorial rule.

“I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work … I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” she said in the video. “I call on you to stand with me. To share not only grief and endless pain … I ask you to share with me the rage. The fury, anger, hatred for those who dare to kill our future.”Navalnaya, an economist, accused the Russian state of poisoning her husband with the nerve agent novichok and hiding his body, blocking access until traces of the poison wore away.

Since taking up the opposition leadership in February, Navalnaya has met a succession of world leaders, including Joe Biden. Last week, a US-based advocacy group, the Human Rights Foundation, named her as its chair, and she said she would use the position to step up the struggle with Putin.

During Russian elections in March this year, Navalnaya called for mass protests against Putin by forming long queues at midday, overwhelming polling stations in a campaign that came to be known as “noon against Putin”.

Navalnaya was a close confidante to her husband and regularly consulted him on his political campaigns and opposition movement. But she is a reluctant public figure and the relentless pressure on the opposition has made it difficult for Navalny’s movement to regain momentum after his death.

Also on Tuesday, the family of Vladimir Kara-Murza, another top critic of Putin, said that he had disappeared in a Russian prison. Supporters said that Kara-Murza, who suffers from complications of poisoning, had last been seen by his lawyers on 2 July. He was reported transferred to a prison hospital on 4 July and has since been held incommunicado. “In the wake of the murder of Alexei Navalny in detention, there are now growing fears that Kara-Murza’s life is in danger,” wrote the Free Russia foundation.

Kara-Murza is serving a 25-year prison sentence for treason and other charges that he has said were motivated by his criticism of Putin. Days after Navalny’s death, Russian journalists warned that Kara-Murza could die if he was held in a Russian prison.

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