Navalny’s Death in Prison — On Navalny’s Threat to Putin & How Russians Might Respond

Jakub Ferencik
5 min readFeb 16, 2024

Many have called Alexei Navalny one of Vladimir Putin’s largest obstacles in Russia since at least Boris Nemtsov, who was killed outside of the Kremlin in 2015. The former Wagner mercenary leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, could also contend that title, but Prigozhin and Navalny were fundamentally different people.

Navalny stood for democratic principles and widely reported on corruption in Russia. Documentaries his team made showed palaces that Russia built for Putin and his closest enablers. Wagner contested Putin’s handling of the war because he thought that more aggression would result in a quicker victory (he did this vicariously by criticizing the Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, as outright criticism of Putin results in death in Russia or abroad). Their aims and methods were fundamentally different — but both threatened Putin.

Navalny was in jail from January 2021 when he returned to Moscow after his recovery from a nerve agent poisoning that seemingly meant to kill the dissident. His campaigns against corruption were viewed by hundreds of millions, sparking large anti-Kremlin protests which he also organized. Internationally, he was celebrated for standing up to authoritarianism, following in the lineage of other dissidents like the Czech playwright and then president, Vaclav Havel.

Since 2021, Navalny received three jail sentences, widely viewed as politically motivated. The latest was a 19-year sentence and the charge was against extremism.

Navalny was a charismatic man, popular with the Russian public, and committed to reporting the truth in Russia to its citizens. In Putin’s eyes, that all threatened his loosening grip on power.

As of writing (16 February 2024), we do not know if Navalny was killed, but the conditions he lived in while in prison, not to mention the failed poisonings, are certainly a sign that even if Navalny died of “natural” causes, he would have had a much longer life if not in prison. Navalny was 47.

Video footage indicates that Navalny was seen smiling and joking at a court hearing the day prior to his death. The Globe and Mail reports: “[Navalny] felt unwell after a walk, according to the Federal Penitentiary Service, and lost consciousness.”

So, how will the Russian people react?

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Jakub Ferencik

Author of “Up in the Air,” “Beyond Reason,” & "Surprised by Uncertainty" on AMAZON | MA McGill Uni | 750+ articles with 1+ mil. views