Navalny's widow Yulia calls on Russians to fight Putin for freedom

Navalny's widow Yulia calls on Russians to fight Putin for freedom


Navalny's widow Yulia calls on Russians to fight Putin for freedom

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MOSCOW (Reuters) – Yulia Navalnaya said on Monday she would continue the fight of her dead husband Alexei Navalny for a "free Russia" and called on opposition supporters to battle President Vladimir Putin with greater fury than ever.

Navalnaya's call from abroad for resistance to Putin comes less than a month before a presidential election that is almost certain to hand the Kremlin chief another six-year term.

In a nine-minute video message laced with rage, Navalnaya, 47, said Putin had killed her husband and in doing so had cut away half her heart and robbed their two children of a father.

"I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia," Navalnaya said in the video message entitled "I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny".

"I urge you to stand next to me," she said. "I ask you to share the rage with me. Rage, anger, hatred towards those who dared to kill our future."

It was unclear where she was speaking from but she was not in Russia. Navalnaya was due to attend a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday which was weighing imposing further sanctions on Russia over her husband's death.

Navalnaya accused the Russian authorities of hiding Navalny's corpse and of waiting for traces of the Novichok nerve agent to disappear from his body. She gave no evidence but said her team would publish details of who killed her husband.

"Vladimir Putin killed my husband," Navalnaya said. "By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me - half of my heart and half of my soul."

"But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up. I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny, continue to fight for our country."

Navalny, 47, fell unconscious and died suddenly on Friday after a walk at the "Polar Wolf" penal colony where he was serving a three-decade sentence, the prison service said.

The West and Navalny's supporters say Putin is responsible for Navalny's death. The Kremlin has denied involvement in his death and said that Western claims that Putin was responsible for the death were unacceptable.

Putin has made no public comment on Navalny's death but it has further deepened a gaping schism in relations between Moscow and the West caused by the nearly two-year Ukraine war.

Asked by reporters how Putin reacted to news of the death, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "I have nothing to add."

Navalny rose to prominence more than a decade ago by documenting and poking fun at what he said was the vast corruption and opulence of the "crooks and thieves" running Putin's Russia.

He was by far the most charismatic figure in Russia's scattered opposition - and he gained respect for returning to Russia after a 2020 poisoning in Siberia. Navalny said a Russian hit squad had smeared Novichok in his underpants, which the Kremlin denied.

Continuing Navalny's battle, though, is fraught with difficulty - and danger.

Any attempt to lead the opposition from within Russia is almost certain to lead to arrest, but any leader doing so from abroad would be cast by Moscow as a foreign puppet controlled by Western intelligence.

"If (Navalnaya) does this in Russia, she will have a high chance of ending up where her late husband ended up," Alexei Levinson, head of the sociocultural research at Russian pollster Levada Center, told Reuters.

"If she does this from abroad, the effect will be the same as for all the rest of those who somehow try to influence the processes taking place in Russia from abroad, and in my opinion, do not achieve very much."

Russian authorities cast Navalny and his supporters as extremists with links to the CIA intelligence agency who were trying to destabilise Russia. They have outlawed his movement.

Navalnaya's video appeal was not reported by state media in Russia. An unidentified source was quoted by some Russian media as saying she could soon be declared a "foreign agent".

Navalnaya, a graduate of the prestigious Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, always supported her husband in his battles with Russian authorities, attending his many court appearances, standing beside him at rallies and waiting for release from many prison terms.

But she took a supporting role.

"I know it seems that it is no longer possible (to continue the struggle)," she said in the video clip. "But we need more. To gather all together in one strong fist and hit this crazed regime with it - Putin, his friends, bandits in uniform, thieves and murderers who crippled our country."