Western officials and Kremlin critics blame Putin and his government.com2F002Ff62F089627b407ba0e8b50a2f41dc2da2Fe0a0184a4fa142dba9a371960656243d

Western officials and Kremlin critics blame Putin and his government for Navalny's death in prison

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — World leaders and Russian opposition activists wasted no time Friday in blaming President Vladimir Putin and his government for the reported death of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“It is obvious that he was killed by Putin,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Germany to seek help for his country in fending off an invasion by Russia.

“Putin doesn’t care who dies – only that he keeps his position. That's why he can't hold on to anything. “Putin must lose everything and be held accountable for his actions,” Zelensky added.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose country temporarily welcomed Navalny in 2020 after he was poisoned with a nerve agent, praised the Kremlin critic's courage and said his death made clear “what kind of regime this is.”

“He has now probably paid for this courage with his life,” said Scholz, who stood next to Zelensky. The German leader said he met Navalny in Berlin during his recovery.

At the time of his death, Navalny, 47, was serving a 19-year prison sentence on extremism charges in a remote penal colony above the Arctic Circle. Since his return from Germany in January 2021, he has been behind bars serving time on various charges, which he dismissed as a politically motivated attempt to keep him in prison for life.

Navalny was “brutally murdered by the Kremlin,” Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “This is a fact and this is what should be known about the true nature of the current Russian regime.”

Navalny's aides stressed that they had no independent confirmation of his death in Russian prison officials' reports. His close ally Ivan Zhdanov said authorities must “notify relatives within 24 hours” “if this applies.”

“There were no notifications,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. “We have no further comment beyond that.”

Sympathy for Navalny's family and outrage at the Kremlin, which has led an unprecedented crackdown on dissent in recent years, came from around the world.

“If this is true, then regardless of the formal cause, the responsibility for the premature death lies with Vladimir Putin personally, who first gave the green light to the poisoning of Alexei and then put him in prison,” said Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an exile Russian tycoon turned opposition figure in exile and spoke in an online statement.

Other Russian opposition activists joined him.

“If confirmed, Alexei’s death is a murder. Organized by Putin,” opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov said on social media. “Even if Alexei died a 'natural' death, these were caused by his poisoning and further torture in prison.”

Former world chess champion and opposition activist Garry Kasparov said: “Putin tried to murder Navalny quickly and secretly with poison and failed, and now he has murdered him slowly and publicly in prison.”

“He was killed because he exposed Putin and his mafia for the crooks and thieves they are,” Kasparov, who lives abroad, wrote on X.

Pyotr Verzilov, a prominent member of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot, said: “Navalny was murdered in prison.” In a post on X, Verzilov added: “We will definitely take revenge and destroy this regime.”

Western officials also blamed Putin and his government.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Navalny's death showed that “Putin fears nothing more than the dissent of his own people.”

She called it “a grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are all about,” adding that there should be additional impetus to “unite in our fight to protect the freedom and security of those who dare.” to defend against autocracy.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russia must answer questions about whether the reports were true.

“We have seen that Russia has become an increasingly authoritarian power and has been using repression against the opposition for many years,” Stoltenberg said.

Navalny, he said, “was in prison, a prisoner, and that is why it is extremely important that Russia now answers all the questions asked about the cause of his death.”

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told NPR that if Navalny's death is confirmed, “it is a terrible tragedy and raises real and obvious questions about it given the Russian government's long and sordid history of harming its opponents.” “What happened here.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, called his death, if confirmed, “another sign of Putin's brutality” and that “whatever story they tell, let's be clear: Russia is responsible.” “

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, also at the conference, echoed her comments, saying: “Putin's Russia jailed him, made trumped-up charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to an Arctic penal colony and now he has tragically died. “And we should hold Putin responsible for it.”

Russian lawmakers and other officials bristled at the West's outrage.

Sergei Mironov, leader of a pro-Kremlin party, said “Russia’s enemies” benefited from Navalny’s death.

“Of course, health problems could have been the cause of death. But in any case, an untimely death of a notorious “opposition figure,” especially a month before the presidential election, primarily benefits Russia’s enemies,” Mironov said in an online statement. “They will use it to the maximum to put pressure on us from outside and change the situation in the country.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “The immediate reaction of NATO leaders to Navalny's death in the form of direct accusations against Russia is a self-exposure.” The death is still being investigated, but “the West's conclusions are already available.” she said.

Russian opposition activists in Europe called for rallies outside Russian embassies on Friday and were also planned in Georgia, Israel and Armenia, according to Anastasia Burakova, founder of Kovcheg, a group that helps Russians in exile.