Aleksei Navalny’s body returned to his mother, allies say


Russian authorities have transferred the body of opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny to his mother, his spokesman said Saturday, ending a bitter custody battle over his remains, but it is unclear whether he will have a funeral he can attend. the public. .

“Aleksei’s body has been handed over to his mother,” Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said in a statement. aware on social networks. “The funeral is yet to come. “We don’t know if the authorities will interfere so that this happens the way the family wants and how Aleksei deserves.”

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, was still on Saturday in the northern city of Salekhard, near the Arctic prison where Navalny was reported to have died on February 16, Yarmysh said. He added that the opposition leader’s team would release information about the funeral “as it becomes available.”

Navalny’s family and aides have accused Russian authorities of holding his body hostage and “blackmailing” his mother into agreeing to secretly bury him. On Friday, Yarmysh said Salekhard officials had given Navalnaya an ultimatum demanding that he agree to such a secret funeral within three hours, or else he would be buried on prison grounds.

That deadline expired Friday night without any new information from Navalny’s aides. Russian authorities have not commented on Navalny’s team’s version of events.

The circumstances of Mr. Navalny’s death remain unclear and it was not immediately clear whether his family would attempt to conduct an independent autopsy before his burial. According to Yarmysh, Navalnaya received a medical report earlier this week that said he had died of natural causes.

The news that Navalnaya, 69, was given custody of the body suggested that Russian authorities had relented after a days-long social media campaign by Navalny’s team. On Saturday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, 47, posted a six-minute video on YouTube denouncing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for defaming the Christian values ​​she professes by “mocking Aleksei’s mother and forcing her to accept a secret funeral.” .”

“This is a kind of Satanism, paganism,” he said. “What do you plan to do with his body?”

Team Navalny’s social media accounts also shared videos from Russian celebrities such as ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov calling on the Kremlin to release Mr. Navalny’s remains.

“Thank you to everyone who posted and recorded video messages,” Ivan Zhdanov, a top Navalny adviser, said on the social messaging app Telegram. “You all did what you should have done.”

The question now is how Navalny’s funeral will unfold. The dispute over custody of his body appears to reflect Kremlin fears that a public funeral in Moscow could become a flashpoint for protests.

Last August, authorities in St. Petersburg arranged a secret burial for mercenary leader Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who died in a plane crash after leading a 24-hour revolt and marching on Moscow. But Navalny’s family and aides have said they will not accept a quiet burial, hinting that they will try to turn the opposition leader’s funeral into a rare display of dissent within Russia.

Putin “is not allowing people to say goodbye to Aleksei,” Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s longtime chief of staff, said in a video posted online Friday.

“I’m surprised he’s not thinking about how he himself will be buried,” Volkov added, referring to the Russian president. “If I were you, I would think about it.”

In trying to build momentum for a public funeral, Navalny’s team appears to be following the instructions of their dead leader, who had urged his followers to keep fighting if he was ever killed. In a widely circulated interview clip for the 2022 documentary “Navalny,” Navalny says that if he is killed, “he is not allowed to give up.”

“If they decide to kill me, it means we are incredibly strong,” he says. “We need to use this power to not give up.”

Saturday’s announcement by Navalny’s team about the transfer of his body came on the second anniversary of the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians have long criticized Navalny – and his widow, Navalnaya – for not being vocal enough in supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty.

But Navalnaya did refer to the war in her video on Saturday, declaring that Putin and his officials would one day answer “for the war they started two years ago.”

Putin and his allies say “they are fighting some Western evil that interferes with our traditional values,” he said. “But you just kill. “They just bomb civilians who are sleeping at night.”

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