Alexei Navalny’s mother given hours to agree to secret burial, allies of Putin critic say

By Isaac M February 24, 2024

Russian authorities told Alexei Navalny’s mother that she had mere hours to decide whether to agree to a secret funeral for her son or allow him to be buried in an Arctic prison where he died, his spokesperson has claimed.

In a statement on Twitter/X, Kira Yarmysh said Navalny’s 69-year-old mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, had refused the ultimatum, insisting that they did not have the legal right to offer it.

“An investigator called Alexey’s mother … and gave her an ultimatum. Either she agrees to a secret funeral without a public farewell within 3 hours, or Alexey will be buried in the colony,” Ms Yarmysh wrote.

“She refused to negotiate … as they are not authorised to decide how and where her son should be buried. 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.

“According to the medical documents she signed, these two days expire tomorrow. She insists that the authorities allow the funeral and memorial service to take place in accordance with normal practice.”

Navalny, 47, Russia’s most well-known opposition leader, unexpectedly died last Friday in the Arctic “Polar Wolf” penal colony, with his wife Yulia accusing Vladimir Putin of killing her husband and then hiding the body to allow traces of the nerve agent novichok to disappear from his system.

Western leaders have lined up to accuse the Kremlin over the killing of Navalny. On Friday, the US and the European Union heaped new sanctions on Russia on the eve of the second anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine and in retaliation for Navalany’s death.

In specific response to Navalny’s death, the state department targeted three Russian officials the US says are connected to his death, including the deputy director of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service, who was promoted by Mr Putin to the rank of colonel general on Monday, three days after Navalny died. The sanctions bar the officials from travelling to the US and block access to US-owned property. But they appear largely symbolic given that the officials are unlikely to travel to or have assets or family in the West. Earlier this week, Britain froze the assets of six chiefs of the “Polar Wolf” prison and banned them from the UK.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said to “expect more” action later related to Navalny’s death, adding that “today this just a start”.

The US government also imposed roughly 600 new sanctions on Russia and its war machine in the largest single round of penalties since Russia’s invasion began. The EU, for its part, added sanctions on several foreign companies over allegations that they have exported dual-use goods to Russia that could be used in its war against Ukraine.

Alexei Navalny’s mother Lyudmila Navalnaya lays flowers for her son

President Joe Biden said the sanctions come in response to Mr Putin’s “brutal war of conquest” and to Navalny’s death.

“We in the United States are going to continue to ensure that Putin pays a price for his aggression abroad and repression at home,” Mr Biden said.

Navalny’s mother and lawyers have been trying to retrieve his body since late last week – drawing support from prominent Russians – but have faced resistance from the authorities.

Navalny’s mother said on Thursday that investigators allowed her to see her son’s body in the morgue in the Arctic city of Salekhard. She said she repeated her demand to have Navalny’s body returned to her and accused authorities of “blackmailing” her into holding a secret burial with no mourners. “They want it to do it secretly without a mourning ceremony,” she said.

Ms Navalnaya also said she was made to sign a death certificate saying her son died of natural causes.

Authorities in Russia have detained hundreds of people as they seek to suppress any major outpouring of sympathy for Mr Putin’s fiercest foe before a presidential election he is certain to win next month.

Posting on social media, prominent Russians have appealed directly to Mr Putin to demand that he return Navalny’s body to his family.

“Just give Lyudmila her son,” Nobel prize-winning journalist Dmitry Muratov said, adding, “It’s awkward to talk about this in a country that still considers itself Christian.”

Nadya Tolokonnikova, who became widely known after spending nearly two years in prison for taking part in a 2012 protest with the band Pussy Riot inside Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral, also released a video.

“We were imprisoned for allegedly trampling on traditional values. But no one tramples on traditional Russian values more than you, Putin, your officials and your priests who pray for all the murder that you do, year after year, day after day,” Ms Tolokonnikova said.

“Putin, have a conscience, give his mother the body of her son,” she added.

Navalny’s mother has filed a lawsuit at a court in Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body. A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for 4 March.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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