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‘Did you expect anything else?’ Kremlin insiders weigh in on Alexey Navalny’s death and what it means for Vladimir Putin’s regime

Source: Meduza
Sefa Karacan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Officials in the Kremlin’s political bloc see Alexey Navalny’s death as “a very negative development” — for Vladimir Putin’s reelection campaign. At the same time, members of the Putin administration do not expect the opposition politician’s demise to seriously affect the results of next month’s tightly controlled presidential vote. 

This is according to two sources close to the Putin administration, one source close to the leadership of the ruling United Russia party, and a Kremlin political strategist, all of whom spoke to Meduza on condition of anonymity. (It should be noted that these are typical remarks regarding any events that may affect the course of Putin’s reelection.) 

Asked to comment on Navalny’s death, two of the aforementioned sources gave extremely cynical responses, saying that the opposition politician “knew what he was getting into when he returned to Russia” in 2021 and that he was “punished for working against the country.”

At the same time, both sources believed that Navalny wasn’t “purposefully” killed, instead attributing his death to poor prison conditions. “Did you expect anything else? It was bound to happen sooner or later,” one said. 

‘A condemned man’

Alexey Navalny was imprisoned in January 2021 immediately upon returning to Russia just months after the FSB agents poisoned him with a chemical nerve agent. At the time of his death, he was serving a 19 year sentence in a “special regime” prison colony north of the Arctic circle in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. 

The Russian prison authorities reported Navalny’s death in a statement on February 16. Russian propaganda network RT then claimed that Navalny had died of a “detached blood clot.” In an interview with Meduza, however, a doctor who advised Navalny’s associates said this was an “unlikely” cause of death that would be impossible to confirm without an independent autopsy. 

Navalny’s death has not been independently confirmed at the time of this writing. However, many experts and public figures commenting on his death have said that it should be considered a murder and that Putin should be held responsible. 

Two other sources close to Kremlin officials said they were “saddened” by the news of Navalny’s death. One added that he considered the imprisoned opposition politician a “condemned man.” “No one survives such conditions,” he said. 

Prison authorities placed Navalny in a solitary punishment cell for the 27th time on February 14. Navalny’s associates have repeatedly raised alarm over the state of his health and the danger to his life in prison, as have medical professionals. The two sources close to Kremlin officials told Meduza that according to the information they have, decisions about the conditions of detention for prisoners of Navalny’s caliber come straight from the country’s top leadership. 


‘Legalized torture’ What we know about conditions in the Arctic prison where Alexey Navalny died


‘Legalized torture’ What we know about conditions in the Arctic prison where Alexey Navalny died

‘Putin’s going to be called a bloody dictator’

Meduza’s sources believe that the news of Navalny’s death will have an “extremely negative effect” in the West. They also noted that this is “especially” likely against the backdrop of recent “attempts to get through” to Western audiences via Putin’s exclusive interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. (You can read Meduza’s summary of the interview here.) 

“The president is going to be called a bloody dictator and murderer once again,” one source said. 

Another source speculated that Navalny’s death would also complicate hypothetical peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, as Western countries might consider it “unacceptable” to discuss possible terms with Putin in these circumstances. “It’s impossible to negotiate after this,” he told Meduza. (Putin’s spokesman recently denied reports that the Russian president had floated a ceasefire aimed at “freezing” the war to the United States via intermediaries.) 

At the same time, Meduza’s sources believe that Navalny’s death will have less of an impact inside Russia itself. “It will be discussed for a few days and then it will peter out on its own,” one said, recalling that Navalny’s most active supporters were forced to flee the country after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

State propaganda “will help calm down” the rest, he added. A journalist from a pro-Kremlin Russian media outlet told Meduza that his newsroom had already received instructions from the Putin administration on how to cover Navalny’s death. The authorities have allegedly told state outlets not to mention Navalny’s 2020 poisoning under any circumstances and to describe the deceased as an “extremist imprisoned on criminal charges.”

‘A branch of our future has disappeared forever’

The Kremlin political strategist who spoke to Meduza said that the Putin administration had prepared for “such a scenario” in advance and had already determined how to “handle Navalny’s death.” “Anything can happen in prison…Especially when it’s obvious that the big bosses weren’t going to let Navalny go,” he said. 

The political strategist also speculated that Russian propagandists will spin Navalny’s death by pushing multiple narratives to their audiences simultaneously. He then gave the following examples:

  1. “An extremist opposition figure suffered a blood clot and his death is being hyped up in the West in order to do damage to Putin and put the blame on him.” 
  2. Navalny’s death “is not beneficial for us [Russia], so it benefits the West: They eliminated their own agent as a sacrificial victim.” 
  3. Russian “security forces and hawks decided to eliminate Navalny so there would be no negotiations” with Ukraine. 

Meduza’s sources insisted that they did not expect mass protests or other serious consequences for the Kremlin stemming from Navalny’s death (the Russian authorities have effectively banned any and all street protests). But despite their cynical comments, sources saw the situation as bleak. 

“A particular branch of our future, which some hoped for and others feared, has disappeared forever,” said one source close to the Putin administration, referring to the possibility of a democratic transformation. “It doesn’t exist any more — and it never will again.”


Live updates: Alexey Navalny is dead Russia’s most famous opposition figure has died in prison


Live updates: Alexey Navalny is dead Russia’s most famous opposition figure has died in prison

Story by Andrey Pertsev

Translation by Eilish Hart

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