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Smart Take | Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny Dies in Russian Jail

February 16, 20242:08

Russian prison authorities have announced the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The report has not been confirmed, but it is already sending shockwaves across the international community. Will Pomeranz, Director of the Kennan Institute, comments on the impact of Navalny’s death. He describes what Navalny meant for human rights and democracy, what kind of reaction this tragedy could spark ahead of Russia's March presidential elections. Pomeranz also talks about how Navalny will be remembered both in Russia and on around the world.

Video Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    The death of Alexei Navalny will have repercussions in the United States, in Europe, and in Russia. There is no alternative candidate or alternative person in Russia who was so committed to democracy and the rule of law. And it will be a long time before an alternative can take on this place. 

    I think that what will be remembered about Navalny is that he was a true Russian patriot and he went back to Russia after attempts to kill him, essentially because he wanted to be engaged with Russia and with the Russian people. And he believed that in order to be a Russian politician, he had to be in Russia. And that, unfortunately, has led to his death. 

    Obviously, Russia is under severe sanctions already, but I think that the United States and Europe will introduce more sanctions because of Navalny's death. And I think that there will be every attempt to make sure that Navalny is remembered as a fighter for democracy and human rights.

    Alexei Navalny has often encouraged Russian people to go out and protest and especially during elections and so forth. So I think that there is a possibility, depending on how the reaction is, that they will follow Navalny's advice and simply protest not only the death of Navalny, but everything that Putin stands for and has done. There are various attempts to hold Russia accountable for his crimes in Ukraine, whether it the crime of aggression, whether it is reparations and so forth. So I think the memory of the Navalny will be very strong. And I think that Navalny will be remembered as someone who essentially was murdered by Vladimir Putin. 

    I think the question will be whether Russians decide to protest and rally around the death of Alexei Navalny. And I should emphasize that this is also an election year and the election is coming close to the presidential election for Putin. And I think that there is a possibility, in light of the economic problems in Russia, in light of a war that's not going well, that this could be one of the things that draws Russia's Russians back to politics and to civil society and makes them go out into the streets and protest. So the repercussions of this event of the death of Navalny will be immediate. All of the criticism will rebound to Vladimir Putin, who has persecuted him, who has sentenced him to prison and has put him in a position where he was way in the upper Arctic Circle and was in solitary confinement. So I think the consensus will be that Vladimir Putin has murdered Alexei Navalny.


William E. Pomeranz

William E. Pomeranz

Director, Kennan Institute

William Pomeranz, the Director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, is an expert guide to the complexities of political and economic developments in Russia, particularly through the lens of law. He leverages extensive, hands-on experience in international and Russian jurisprudence to address a wide range of legal issues, from the development of Russia’s Constitution to human rights law to foreign investment and sanctions. He is also the author of Law and the Russian State: Russia's Legal Evolution from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin (Bloomsbury, 2018).

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The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more