Officials say Alexei Navalny, Putin's fiercest opponent, has died

Alexei Navalny, who fought official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as a staunch opponent of President Vladimir Putin, died Friday at an Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence, Russia's prison agency said. He is 47 years old.

Shocking news of Navalny's death – less than a month before the election Putin has six more years in power – brought renewed criticism and outrage at the Kremlin leader who crushed all opposition at home.

People laid flowers at memorials to victims of Soviet-era political repression in some Russian cities, but there was no immediate sign that Navalny's death would spark major protests, a blow to a deadlocked and fractured opposition.

According to the Federal Penitentiary Service, Navalny fell ill and lost consciousness after Friday's walk. An ambulance arrived but could not revive him. The service said the cause of death was “being confirmed”.

Navalny had He has been imprisoned since January 2021, returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he has received three prison terms, all of which he has dismissed as politically motivated.

Navalny's bravery has drawn praise from Western leaders and others opposed to Putin's rule. The opposition leader's health has recently deteriorated and the cause of death will never be known, but many world leaders are Russian authorities are ultimately responsible for his death.

If confirmed, “his death in a Russian prison and the position and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin built. Russia is responsible for this,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said at a conference in Germany.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Navalny “probably would have given his life for this audacity now”.

Standing by Scholz's side, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky – a country that is holding back a Russian invasion – “Putin doesn't care who dies to keep his position.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had been informed of Navalny's death. Kira Yarmish, a spokeswoman for the opposition leader, said on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that the team had yet to be confirmed.

Shortly after the death was announced, Russian social media channel SOTA shared images of the opposition politician who was said to have been in court yesterday. Navalny can be seen standing up and laughing and joking with the judge through a video link.

Navalny was transferred in December from a prison in central Russia to a “special regime” penal colony – the highest security level of prisons in the country – above the Arctic Circle.

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His allies rebuked him Transfer to a colony in Corp CityAnother attempt to pacify Navalny, in an area about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

Before his arrest, Navalny campaigned against official corruption, organized large anti-Kremlin protests and ran for public office.

In Putin's Russia, political enemies Often faded Deported amid factional strife or after imprisonment, suspected poisoning, or other severe repression. But Navalny continued to grow stronger and reach the pinnacle of resistance through grit, bravado and a keen understanding of how social media could circumvent the Kremlin's stranglehold on independent news outlets.

He faced every setback – be it physical assault or imprisonment – with intense piety, risks with shrewd intelligence. That prompted him to make a bold and fateful move to return from Germany to Russia and some arrests.

Prison officials repeatedly put Navalny in a small cell to punish him for minor crimes. Last month, he said he was placed in such a cell after authorities accused him of refusing to “identify himself in accordance with protocol.”

Being housed in a small cell means that inmates are only allowed to walk outside in the early hours of the morning in a narrow concrete prison yard. “Few things are as refreshing as walking in Yamal at 6:30 in the morning,” he wrote.

Navalny was born in Putin, 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside Moscow. He received a law degree from People's Friendship University in 1998 and a fellowship at Yale in 2010.

He gained attention by focusing on corruption in the murky mix of Russia's politicians and businesses; One of his early moves was to become an activist shareholder in Russian oil and gas companies and push for transparency.

By focusing on corruption, Navalny's work had a pocketbook appeal to Russians' widespread sense of deception, and he resonated stronger than abstract and philosophical concerns about democratic ideals and human rights.

In 2013 he was accused of fraud in what he called a politically motivated case and sentenced to five years in prison, but the prosecutor's office later surprisingly requested his release pending an appeal. The High Court later gave him a suspended sentence.

The day before the sentencing, Navalny registered as a candidate for Moscow mayor. The opposition saw his release as a result of large protests in the capital of his conviction, but many observers attributed it to the authorities' desire to add a veneer of legitimacy to the mayoral election.

Navalny came in second, backed by Putin's political machine and famous for improving the capital's infrastructure and aesthetics.

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Navalny's popularity rose after leading charismatic politician Boris Nemtsov was shot dead on a bridge near the Kremlin in 2015.

Whenever Putin spoke of Navalny, he referred to him as “that guy” or similar words, never mentioning the activist by name, in an apparent attempt to downplay his importance.

Even in opposition circles, Navalny was often seen as too nationalistic to support the rights of ethnic Russians — he supported Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, though most countries considered it illegal — but he largely managed to override that. Those reservations with the power of investigation conducted by his fund against corruption.

Although state-controlled television channels ignored Navalny, his investigations resonated with young Russians through YouTube videos and his website and social media accounts. This strategy enabled it to reach inland areas far from the political and cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg and establish a strong network of regional offices.

His work has expanded from a focus on corruption to a full-scale critique of the political system under Putin. He was a central figure in the unprecedented scale of protests against questionable national election results and the exclusion of independent candidates.

Navalny understood that he could attract attention with a A poignant phrase and a powerful image. His description of Putin's power base, United Russia, as a “party of crooks and thieves” was instantly popular; A lengthy investigation into then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's lavish country visits boiled down to the complex's well-appointed duck house. Soon, humorous yellow duck puppets became a popular way to mock the chief.

In 2017, after an assailant threw green disinfectant in his face, severely damaging one of his eyes, Navalny joked in a video blog that people were comparing him to the comic book character The Hulk.

The worst was to come.

While serving a prison term in 2019 for his election campaign, he was taken to hospital with what officials said was an allergic reaction, but some doctors said it looked like poison.

A year later, on August 20, 2020, he fell seriously ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where he spent two days in hospital as supporters pleaded with doctors to allow him to be flown to Germany for treatment.

Once in Germany, doctors determined she had been poisoned by a strain of Novichok — the same nerve agent that nearly killed ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter and another woman in England in 2018.

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Navalny was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks. His first communication in recovery showed his defiant wit — an Instagram post that said breathing on one's own “is a remarkable process underestimated by many. A solid recommendation.”

The Kremlin vehemently denied it was behind the poisoning, but Navalny challenged the denial with a daring move — essentially a deadly serious prank phone call. He released a recording of a call he allegedly made to a member of a group of Federal Security Service, or FSP, officers who allegedly tried to cover up the poisoning. The FSB dismissed the registration as fake.

Russian authorities later raised the stakes when they announced that Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended sentence on one of his sentences during his time in Germany and that he would be arrested if he returned home.

Being abroad is not in his nature. Navalny and his wife Jan. 17, 2021 boarded a flight to Moscow. Upon arrival, he told waiting journalists that he was glad to be back and went through passport control and was taken into custody. Within two weeks, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

The events sparked massive protests that reached far-flung corners of Russia and more than 10,000 people were detained by the police.

As part of a massive crackdown on the opposition that followed, a Moscow court in 2021 banned Navalny's anti-corruption foundation and about 40 regional offices as extremists, exposing members of his team to prosecution.

When Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Navalny strongly condemned the war in social media posts from prison.

Less than a month into the war, he was sentenced to an additional nine years in prison for embezzlement and contempt of court in a case he and his supporters dismissed as trumped up. Investigators immediately launched a new investigation, and in August 2023 Navalny was convicted on terrorism charges. 19 years in prison.

After the verdict, Navalny said “I am serving a life sentence, measured by my life span or the life span of this regime.”

Documentary “Navalny”. His story won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in March 2023.

Navalny's wife spoke at the awarding ceremony and said: My husband is in jail for telling the truth. My husband is in jail for defending democracy. Alexey, I dream of the day when you will be free and our country will be free.

Besides his wife, Navalny has a son and a daughter.

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Associated Press writer Tasha Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia, contributed.

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