Putin's number one enemy Alexei Navalny 'was killed by Novichok', widow claims as mother barred from seeing body

19 February 2024, 12:16 | Updated: 19 February 2024, 12:19

Alexei Navalny was killed with Novichok, according to his widow
Alexei Navalny was killed with Novichok, according to his widow. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

Putin's number one enemy Alexei Navalny was killed by Novichok, his widow has claimed.

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The Russian anti-corruption leader died suddenly on Friday at a remote Arctic prison, with local media reporting that he suffered a blood clot as officials stayed tight-lipped on the cause.

His widow Yulia Navalnaya said the state would be waiting for traces of "yet another Putin's Novichok" to leave the body.

He had been poisoned with the substance in 2020, falling ill on a plane flight. He was treated in Germany but bravely chose to go back to Russia to continue his fight against the Kremlin regime.

"We know exactly why Putin killed Alexei three days ago. We will tell you soon about it," she said.

"We will also definitely find out who exactly and how exactly this crime was committed. We will name names and show faces.

“The most important thing we can do for Alexei and for ourselves is to continue to fight."

Russia had previously tried to assassinate Sergei Skripal, a former spy living in Salisbury, with Novichok. They failed, but Dawn Sturgess, who came into contact with the substance, was killed.

Yulia Navalnya has said her husband was poisoned with Novichok
Yulia Navalnya has said her husband was poisoned with Novichok. Picture: Getty

Navalny's mother Lyudmila has struggled to see his body, which is reported to have been covered in bruises at the time of death.

He was the foremost critic of Vladimir Putin, and had been jailed in 2021 on charges widely denounced as political. Many commentators and politicians, besides Yulia, have blamed Putin directly or indirectly for his death.

His spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Monday: "Alexei’s mother and his lawyers arrived at the morgue early in the morning. They were not allowed to go in.

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"One of the lawyers was literally pushed out. When the staff was asked if Alexei’s body was there, they did not answer."

Ms Yarmysh added later that investigators "informed the mother and the lawyers that the investigation of the death of Navalny has been extended".

"They don’t say how long it will take. The cause of death is still 'unknown.' They lie, buy time for themselves and do not even hide it," she said.

Protests broke out in Russia over the weekend demanding that Mr Navalny's body be released. At least 100 people are thought to have been arrested.

Navalny's friend Tatiana Fokina told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast on Monday that "there was a huge movement in Russia now demanding for the body to be released to the family".

"Because obviously, it just looks as if the authorities are trying, as always, to cover something up," she said.

"What the West needs to do is get real" says former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Laurie Bristow

Former diplomats and politicians who dealt with Russia warned that Navalny's death could show that Putin's resolve was strengthening.

Laurie Bristow told Nick: "What the West needs to do here is to get real. Quite a few Western politicians have done so. It's been really extraordinary how strong the support has been from the Eastern Europeans, from the Balts, the Baltic states, they know up close and personal what we're dealing with here.

"Some of the Western countries have put in a great deal of support to Ukraine, but it's not enough and it needs to be sustained for as long as it takes. And also we need to look at the effect of Russian disinformation and propaganda on our own societies.

Alexei Navalny
Alexei Navalny. Picture: Getty

Meanwhile former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon said Navalny's death looked to be "suspicious".

He added that it was "a reminder to everybody that Putin and his regime are actually evil, they're not just capable of invading other countries but they are capable of murdering at home, murdering anybody who stands up against them.

"There have been a succession now of people who have fallen with Putin and then of course have mysteriously died in different circumstances.

"What this shows is that Putin is now a man who will stop at nothing to recover the territories the Soviet Union has lost, and will stop at nothing to cross descent at home, we've got to step up again now and take the threat from Russia much more seriously."

It comes after Ms Navalnaya shared a final image with her husband.

The photo showed the couple in a dimly lit setting in which the late Mr Navalny is kissing his wife on the side of the head.

Ms Navalnaya spoke at the Munich Security Conference on Friday, just hours after Russian authorities announced Navalny's death.

She received a standing ovation after saying: "I want Putin and everyone around him to know that they will be held accountable for everything they did to our country, to my family and to my husband.

"And this day will come very soon."

Yulia Navalnaya
Yulia Navalnaya. Picture: Getty
Alexei Navalny died in prison
Alexei Navalny died in prison. Picture: Getty

Navalny's mother Lyudmila said that her son had appeared well on Monday, the last time she saw him.

She wrote on Facebook: "I don't want to hear any condolences. We saw him in prison on the (February) 12, in a meeting. He was alive, healthy and happy."

Putin on Friday
Putin on Friday. Picture: Getty

On his return to Russia in 2021, Navalny was jailed for violating parole conditions for a 2014 prison sentence, which was widely condemned as a political charge.

He claimed he was being tortured in prison, and his staff said he had been placed in isolation 27 times over a total of 308 days - the latest instance of which was on Wednesday.

He disappeared for several weeks late last year, before reappearing in his Arctic prison.