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“I Have No Doubts That Navalny Was Killed on Putin’s Orders.”

Alexei Navalny was one of the bravest and most influential political leaders of our time. His assassination should be a wake-up call for Western democracies.

By Zhanna Nemtsova

February 2024

I was lucky enough to have known Alexei Navalny personally. He was in prison in February 2015 when my father, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in Moscow. Though Navalny was not allowed to attend the funeral, we met later at the memorial dinner. There, he told me, “You are smarter than I thought.” I remember his sharp wit and irony. Later, as a reporter for Deutsche Welle, I interviewed Navalny twice. In one of those interviews, he said: “People have the right to revolt against tyranny,” and I could not agree more.

Since his rise to prominence in the 2000s, he focused his political agenda on exposing and fighting corruption within the ruling class, including state-controlled companies and Putin’s ruling party, United Russia. Navalny presented a democratic vision for Russia in creative and innovative ways. He understood early the Internet’s potential and used it as his primary means of communication, especially YouTube. He invented a new political language and coined one of the most recognizable descriptions of Putin’s “party of crooks and thieves.” Alexei’s fresh approach to politics motivated millions of people to care about serious issues and helped politicize three generations of Russians. The documentary “Putin’s Palace,” released after his return to Russia in January 2021 after an assassination attempt, was watched by over a hundred-million viewers. Even from prison, he continued guiding the opposition’s political agenda, and was seen as a threat to the ruling class. I know that Putin only understands strength, and he regarded Navalny as his strongest nemesis. I have no doubts that Navalny was killed on Putin’s orders.

Without ever taking public office, Alexei will go down in history as one of the bravest and most influential politicians of the twenty-first century. Yet a new, uncertain era for Russian resistance started the day he died. His assassination should be a wake-up call for Western democracies. In Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, Ukraine must win. If it doesn’t, Putin’s regime will stop at nothing and will become an existential threat to Europe’s security. The West should recommit to sending military, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, along with further sanctions targeting Moscow. I also strongly believe that Russian exiles should stay connected with people still inside Russia, as they are a vital source of independent news and information. Change will come from inside, as Navalny knew, but our mission is to help.

Since Alexei’s murder, more than four-hundred Russians have been arrested at make-shift memorials for him and other political dissidents. In today’s Russia, even laying flowers and mourning victims of political repression is an act of courage. Millions are mourning because of Navalny’s death, and because of the hope that was extinguished with him.

Zhanna Nemtsova is cofounder of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom and codirector of the Boris Nemtsov Academic Centre for the Study of Russia at Charles University Department of Philosophy.


Copyright © 2024 National Endowment for Democracy

Image Credit: Evgeny Feldman for Alexei Navalny’s campaign/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images




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