Opposition leader and Putin foe Alexei Navalny dies in prison

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 29, 2020. Russia's prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny takes part in a march in memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Russia on Feb. 29, 2020. Russia's prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File) Pavel Golovkin

This photo taken from video released by Russian Federal Penitentiary Service via SOTAVISION shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via a video link from the Arctic penal colony in Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, where he is serving a 19-year sentence, in Kovrov, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2024. Shortly after Navalny's death was reported on Friday Feb. 16, 2024, the Russian SOTA social media channel shared images...

This photo taken from video released by Russian Federal Penitentiary Service via SOTAVISION shows Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via a video link from the Arctic penal colony in Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, where he is serving a 19-year sentence, in Kovrov, Russia, on Feb. 15, 2024. Shortly after Navalny's death was reported on Friday Feb. 16, 2024, the Russian SOTA social media channel shared images...

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, poses for press as he sits handcuffed in court in Moscow, Russia on March 30, 2017. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, poses for press as he sits handcuffed in court in Moscow, Russia on March 30, 2017. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo, File) STR

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia talk in a courtroom before the hearing in Moscow, Russia on April 23, 2015. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia talk in a courtroom before the hearing in Moscow, Russia on April 23, 2015. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File) Pavel Golovkin

FILE - A view of the entrance of the prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - A view of the entrance of the prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - Alexei Navalny is seen behind the bars in the police van after he was detained during protests in Moscow, on May 8, 2012 a day after Putin's inauguration. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File)

FILE - Alexei Navalny is seen behind the bars in the police van after he was detained during protests in Moscow, on May 8, 2012 a day after Putin's inauguration. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev, File) Sergey Ponomarev

FILE - Police officers detain Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, left, in Moscow on July 10, 2013. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Police officers detain Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, left, in Moscow on July 10, 2013. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Police officers detain opposition leader Alexei Navalny during an unauthorized rally in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 15, 2012. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Police officers detain opposition leader Alexei Navalny during an unauthorized rally in Lubyanka Square in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 15, 2012. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File) Pavel Golovkin

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, attends a rally in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2018. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, attends a rally in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2018. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File) Evgeny Feldman

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia after his last rally in rain-soaked Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 6, 2013. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny with his wife Yulia after his last rally in rain-soaked Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 6, 2013. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. He was 47. The Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday Feb. 16, 2024 and lost consciousness. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File) Evgeny Feldman

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media prior to a court session in Moscow, on Aug. 22, 2019. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media prior to a court session in Moscow, on Aug. 22, 2019. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny prepares to speak to journalists outside a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on March 13, 2013 after his appeal against the country's top investigative agency was rejected. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny prepares to speak to journalists outside a courtroom in Moscow, Russia, on March 13, 2013 after his appeal against the country's top investigative agency was rejected. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, and his former colleague Pyotr Ofitserov, foreground, listen to judge in a court in Kirov, Russia, on July 18, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, and his former colleague Pyotr Ofitserov, foreground, listen to judge in a court in Kirov, Russia, on July 18, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File) Dmitry Lovetsky

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, embraces his wife Yulia, as he was released in a courtroom in Kirov, Russia, on July 19, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, embraces his wife Yulia, as he was released in a courtroom in Kirov, Russia, on July 19, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File) Dmitry Lovetsky

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who submitted endorsement papers necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate, center, heads to attend a meeting in the Russia's Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 25, 2017. Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP...

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who submitted endorsement papers necessary for his registration as a presidential candidate, center, heads to attend a meeting in the Russia's Central Election commission in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 25, 2017. Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP... Evgeny Feldman

FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny prepares himself prior his interview with The Associated Press in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 18, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny prepares himself prior his interview with The Associated Press in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 18, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny waves from his office window in Moscow, Russia on April 1, 2010. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny waves from his office window in Moscow, Russia on April 1, 2010. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Alexei Navalny speaks to supporters in Sokolniki park in Moscow, Russia on Aug. 25, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File)

FILE - Alexei Navalny speaks to supporters in Sokolniki park in Moscow, Russia on Aug. 25, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Evgeny Feldman, File) Evgeny Feldman

FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking during his interview to the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 18, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking during his interview to the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 18, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File) Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, with his wife Yulia, right, daughter Daria, and son Zakhar pose for the media after voting during a city council election in Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 8, 2019. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, with his wife Yulia, right, daughter Daria, and son Zakhar pose for the media after voting during a city council election in Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 8, 2019. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov, File) Andrew Lubimov

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a TV screen during a live session with the court during a hearing of his appeal in a court in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2021 with a mural of the Moscow Kremlin in the background. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP...

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears on a TV screen during a live session with the court during a hearing of his appeal in a court in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 28, 2021 with a mural of the Moscow Kremlin in the background. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP... Alexander Zemlianichenko

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, 2nd right, addresses supporters and journalists after arriving from Kirov at a railway station in Moscow, Russia on July 20, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, 2nd right, addresses supporters and journalists after arriving from Kirov at a railway station in Moscow, Russia on July 20, 2013. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File) Dmitry Lovetsky

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking during his supporters' meeting that nominated him for the presidential election race in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 24, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

FILE - Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny gestures while speaking during his supporters' meeting that nominated him for the presidential election race in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 24, 2017. Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison Friday Feb. 16, 2024 Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File) Pavel Golovkin

A U.S. Secret Service uniformed police officer looks at a cardboard sign and flowers left outside the Russian Embassy as a women leaves after placing flowers outside the embassy fence, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, has died in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence. That's according to Russia’s prison agency....

A U.S. Secret Service uniformed police officer looks at a cardboard sign and flowers left outside the Russian Embassy as a women leaves after placing flowers outside the embassy fence, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, has died in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence. That's according to Russia’s prison agency.... Manuel Balce Ceneta

The Russian Embassy sign is seen after being vandalized with a red liquid substance by a passerby wearing a mask, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. The vandalism happened after Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence. He was 47. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The Russian Embassy sign is seen after being vandalized with a red liquid substance by a passerby wearing a mask, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, in Washington. The vandalism happened after Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence. He was 47. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Manuel Balce Ceneta

People lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny at the monument, a large boulder from the Solovetsky islands, where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov)

People lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny at the monument, a large boulder from the Solovetsky islands, where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov) Dmitry Serebryakov

A woman lays flowers paying the last respect to Alexei Navalny at the monument, a large boulder from the Solovetsky islands, where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov)

A woman lays flowers paying the last respect to Alexei Navalny at the monument, a large boulder from the Solovetsky islands, where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov) Dmitry Serebryakov

By JIM HEINTZ, DASHA LITVINOVA and EMMA BURROWS

Associated Press

Published: 02-16-2024 3:08 PM

Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died Friday in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence, Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47.

The stunning news — less than a month before an election that will give Putin another six years in power — brought renewed criticism and outrage directed at the Kremlin leader who has cracked down on all opposition at home.

In Moscow and other Russian cities, people laid flowers at monuments to victims of Soviet-era repression, but there was no indication Navalny’s death would spark large protests, given that the opposition is fractured and beleaguered. His death deals it another heavy blow.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and lost consciousness at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived but he could not be revived; the cause of death is “being established,” it said.

Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he was convicted three times, and rejected each case as politically motivated.

After the last verdict, Navalny said he understood he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime.”

Hours after his death was reported, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, made a dramatic appearance at a security conference in Germany where many world leaders had gathered, and said she had considered canceling her appearance.

“But then I thought what Alexei would do in my place. And I’m sure he would be here,” she said, adding she was unsure if she could believe the news from official Russian sources.

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“But if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband. And this day will come very soon.”

Praise for Navalny’s bravery poured in from Western leaders and others opposing Putin. Navalny’s health has deteriorated recently and the cause of death may never be known, but many of them said they held Russian authorities ultimately responsible for his death — particularly after the deaths of many Kremlin opponents.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington doesn’t know exactly what happened, “but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did.”

Navalny “could have lived safely in exile,” but instead returned to Russia to “continue his work,” despite knowing he could be imprisoned or killed “because he believe so deeply in his country, in Russa.”

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Navalny “has probably now paid for this courage with his life.”

Standing beside Scholz, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — whose country is fending off Russia’s invasion — said: “Putin doesn’t care who dies in order for him to hold onto his position.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was told of Navalny’s death. The opposition leader’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the team had no confirmation yet.

Russia’s main state TV channel interrupted its newscast to announce the death, while other broadcasters carried only terse reports.

The Russian SOTA social media channel shared video of Navalny — reportedly in a prison courtroom on Thursday — laughing and joking with the judge via video link on one of several hearings about conditions in jail.

Navalny was moved in December from a central Russia penal colony to the “special regime” facility — the maximum security level. His allies decried the transfer to the remote Arctic colony as yet another attempt to isolate and silence Navalny.

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

In Putin’s Russia, political opponents often faded amid factional disputes or went into exile after imprisonment, suspected poisonings or other heavy repression. But Navalny grew consistently stronger and reached the apex of the opposition through grit, bravado and an acute understanding of how social media could circumvent the Kremlin’s suffocation of independent news outlets.

He faced each setback — whether a physical assault or imprisonment — with intense devotion and a sardonic wit. When authorities put Navalny in a tiny cell because of minor infractions — giving him access to a narrow prison yard only in the early morning — he joked: “Few things are as refreshing as a walk in Yamal at 6:30 in the morning.”

Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol told The Associated Press that Russia’s repressive climate makes any rallies over his death risky. and “people could get long prison terms for taking part in a peaceful protest.”

In the absence of a ”guiding star” like Navalny, she said, “people will have an even greater fear of repressions, seeing the government’s impunity.”

Navalny was born in Butyn, about 25 miles outside Moscow. He received a law degree from People’s Friendship University in 1998 and did a fellowship at Yale in 2010.

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

His work had pocketbook appeal to Russians’ widespread sense of being cheated, carrying stronger resonance than abstract concerns about democratic ideals and human rights.

He was convicted in 2013 of embezzlement on what he called a politically motivated prosecution and was sentenced to five years in prison, but the prosecutor’s office surprisingly demanded his release pending appeal. A higher court later gave him a suspended sentence.

A day before the sentence, Navalny registered as a candidate for Moscow mayor. The opposition saw his release as the result of large protests over his sentence, but many observers attributed it to a desire by authorities to add a tinge of legitimacy to the race.

Navalny finished second, an impressive performance against an incumbent who was backed by Putin’s political machine and was popular for improving Moscow’s infrastructure.

Navalny’s popularity increased after the leading charismatic politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot and killed in 2015 on a bridge near the Kremlin.

Whenever Putin spoke about Navalny, he made it a point to never mention his name, referring to him as “that person” or similar wording, in an apparent effort to diminish his importance.

In opposition circles, Navalny was often viewed as having a overly nationalist streak for supporting the rights of ethnic Russians — he supported the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Moscow in 2014 although most nations viewed it as illegal — but he was able to mostly override those reservations via investigations conducted by his Fund for Fighting Corruption.

Although state-controlled TV ignored Navalny, his investigations resonated with younger Russians via YouTube and posts on his website and social media accounts. The strategy helped him reach the hinterlands far from the political and cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg and establish a strong network of regional offices.

His work broadened from focusing on corruption to criticism of the political system under Putin. He was a galvanizing figure in protests of unprecedented size against dubious national election results and the exclusion of independent candidates.

Navalny understood he could get attention with a pithy phrase and potent image. His description of Putin’s power-base United Russia as “the party of crooks and thieves” gained instant popularity.

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

Much worse was to come.

While serving a jail sentence in 2019 for involvement in an election protest, he was hospitalized with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction, but some doctors said it appeared to be poisoning.

A year later, he fell severely ill on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where he spent two days in a hospital before being flown to Germany for treatment.

Doctors there determined he had been poisoned with a strain of Novichok – similar to the nerve agent that nearly killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in 2018. Navalny was in a medically induced coma for about two weeks.

The Kremlin vehemently rejected it was behind the poisoning, but Navalny challenged that with an audacious move. He released the recording of a call he said he made to an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly carried out the poisoning and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

Russian authorities then raised the stakes, announcing that while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of a suspended sentence in one of his convictions and that he would be arrested if he returned home.

Navalny and his wife nevertheless boarded a plane for Moscow on Jan. 17, 2021. On arrival, he told waiting journalists he was pleased to be back, walked to passport control and into custody.

Last month, he explained why he returned, saying: “I don’t want to give up either my country or my beliefs.”

Just over two weeks after his return, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 2½ years in prison. That sparked massive protests reaching to Russia’s farthest corners and saw police detain over 10,000 people.

As part of a massive opposition crackdown that followed, a Moscow court in 2021 outlawed Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption and about 40 regional offices as extremist, a verdict that exposed members of his team to prosecution.

When Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Navalny strongly condemned it in social media posts from prison and during his court hearings.

Less than a month after the war began, he was sentenced to another nine-year term for embezzlement and contempt of court in a case he and his supporters rejected as fabricated. Last August, he was convicted of extremism and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

When a film called “Navalny” about his story won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2023, his wife Yulia told the award ceremony: “My husband is in prison just for telling the truth. My husband is in prison just for defending democracy. Alexei, I am dreaming of the day you will be free and our country will be free.”

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son and a daughter.