The Kremlin Feared Navalny in Life and Continues to Fear Him in Death (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 26

(Source: Svobodniye novosti)

(Part One)

Executive Summary:

  • The inconsistent explanations of Russian propagandists for Alexei Navalny’s death underscore the Kremlin’s culpability.
  • Silence and a lack of coverage from some prominent propagandists suggest that Moscow fears drawing too much attention to the oppositionist’s death.
  • The Kremlin’s increasing repressions cannot hide growing domestic problems. Russians will likely intensify their focus on the country’s internal issues—presenting a potential threat to the Putin regime and a possible opening for the opposition.

The Kremlin’s fear of Alexei Navalny has intensified in recent months. In addition to Navalny’s unwavering resolve as a political prisoner and the West’s sustained interest in him, internal political challenges within Russia have further complicated matters. Recently, several reputable Western news agencies reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin, through intermediaries, proposed a “freeze” for the war against Ukraine. The United States, in response, said it would not participate in talks without Ukraine (, February 13). Putin attempted to convey similar sentiments in his interview with American journalist Tucker Carlson (, February 9).

Even a temporary cessation of hostilities implies a shift in focus for the Russian populace toward domestic problems, which have worsened significantly since the start of the war (see EDM, January 22). While Putin maintains the perception of being a shield against external threats, an actual ceasefire would erode that position. As a result, Russian dissidents may once again shift their focus to video exposés, a strategy that Navalny’s team has used effectively. This prospect is particularly pertinent in the lead-up to Russia’s presidential elections in March.

All this suggests that Navalny’s death was not accidental. Despite the harsh conditions of his imprisonment and his health problems, even official Russian media sources acknowledge that the day before the opposition leader’s death, he participated in a hearing at the Vladimir Regional Court via video and appeared to be relatively healthy (, February 16).

The inconsistency in propagandists’ explanations for Navalny’s death indirectly points to the culpability of the Kremlin. Initially, state media outlets, such as RT, claimed that Navalny died from a blood clot (, February 16). This theory, however, was promptly refuted by Alexander Polupan, who was part of the team of doctors who examined Navalny after his poisoning in 2020. Polupan stated that only an autopsy could provide this conclusion, and Navalny had no preexisting risk factors (, February 16).

Later, the narrative shifted, and Russian officials began accusing the West of Navalny’s murder. Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, explicitly stated that Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), along with the leadership of the United States, a number of European countries, and Ukraine, bore responsibility for Navalny’s death in serving their interests (, February 16).

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s lead spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, echoed this viewpoint. She described the reaction of NATO leaders to Navalny’s death as “self-incriminating” (, February 16). Other authors with links to the Putin regime argued on the Telegram channel “NeZzygar” that Navalny’s death occurred “before the presidential elections, after Putin’s successful interview with Mr. Carlson, and practically after the first hints of peace negotiations with Ukraine” was highly inopportune for the Kremlin. They even suggested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy might be behind Navalny’s death (Telegram. me/russia2, February 16). Some propaganda circles pivoted toward blaming Western intelligence services for Navalny’s murder. Propagandists cited motives such as attempting to disrupt the presidential elections, diverting attention from the internal problems of Western countries, and justifying the confiscation of Russian assets frozen abroad (, February 16).

Overall, silence may have been the most notable aspect of Russian propaganda’s response to Navalny’s death. Broadcasts on propaganda channels, such as “Solovyov Live” and central Russian television channels, largely avoided discussing the matter, focusing instead on the war in Ukraine, new Russian weapons, and Putin’s travels to Chelyabinsk. The only commentator invited to “Solovyov Live” to speak on the death of the opposition leader was notorious Belarusian propagandist Grigory Azarenok, who accused Western intelligence services for being behind it (, February 16).

According to reports from independent media, the ruling United Russia party instructed Duma deputies to refrain from commenting on Navalny’s death (, February 16). Emotional reactions from individual propagandists were rare, with Margarita Simonyan being one of the few who openly mocked his passing (, February 16). Other pro-Kremlin commentators attempted to show sympathy while simultaneously discrediting Navalny as a “Russian fool” who allowed his enemies to use him as a “battering ram” (, February 16).

These reactions highlight that the Kremlin continues to fear Navalny’s death. Claiming that the suspicious death was poorly timed for the Kremlin, a fear of drawing too much attention to it, and attempts to discredit Navalny even after his demise are all tactics to distance Moscow from the incident. Only a few years ago, Russian officials and propagandists avoided mentioning Navalny by name, referring to him as “this citizen” or “the Berlin patient” (, March 17, 2021).

Navalny’s name has become synonymous with resistance to the Putin regime. It is the Kremlin itself that, perhaps inadvertently, elevated him to such a status. Moscow, however, failed to recognize that symbols outlast individuals. The very trends that Putin and his circle fear will eventually materialize. In time, Russians will focus more on the country’s internal issues, which neither repression nor murder can conceal. At that point, new opposition leaders will carry on Navalny’s legacy.