mobilization briefs
February 19

Mobilization in Russia for Feb. 16-18, 2024 CIT Volunteer Summary

Alexei Navalny’s Death

Alexei Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh confirmed that the Russian opposition leader had died. "Alexei Navalny has been murdered," Yarmysh wrote. According to the official notification received by Navalny's mother, he died on Feb. 16 at 14:17 local time (12:17 Moscow time). Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, was kept waiting outside in the Arctic cold for two hours, only to be handed a telegram stating that her son had died. A prison official assured Navalnaya that her son’s body was taken to the morgue in the town of Salekhard. According to Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, Navalny’s mother and lawyer were told that Alexei had been struck down by "sudden death syndrome." Aleksandr Polupan, a doctor who previously treated Navalny for poisoning, questioned the circumstances of his death as described by the Federal Penitentiary Service. He noted that Navalny's diagnosis made it unlikely for him to die in the reported manner. Moreover, such diagnosis is not listed on the ICD-10 [International Classification of Diseases], which is the mandated classification for coding mortality and morbidity in Russia. The Salekhard Investigative Committee informed another of Navalny’s lawyers that the cause of death had not yet been established and an additional histological examination was underway.

The location of Alexei Navalny’s body remains unknown. When Lyudmila Navalnaya and the lawyer arrived at the Salekhard morgue, they found it closed. They phoned a number on the door, only to be told that the body was not there, contrary to what the Federal Penitentiary Service claimed. As revealed by the Astra Telegram channel, Navalny’s body is not at the forensic investigation office in Salekhard either. The chief pathologist at the Salekhard district hospital refused to respond to questions from Mediazona [independent Russian media outlet] regarding the whereabouts of Navalny’s remains. Navalny’s team suspects that the authorities are trying to cover traces of his murder.

Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that Navalny’s body would not be released to relatives until the investigation is complete—a statement that contradicts earlier claims of the investigation’s completion. The Investigative Committee started a pre-investigation inquiry into Navalny’s death which gives the authorities 30 days before they are legally required to release the politician’s body to his family, lawyer Eva Levenberg with OVD-Info [independent human rights project] says. Levenberg presumes that the Investigative Committee started this inquiry purposefully to be able to keep the body, as otherwise the standard investigation process would only take three days. However, in addition to the inquiry, an investigation into the case will also need to be completed, and the decision to release the body can only be made by the investigative body. Thus, the investigation may as well take more than 30 days.

Novaya Gazeta Europe [European edition of the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta] spoke with a convict serving a sentence in the penal colony in Kharp, where Navalny died. The source indicated that the politician likely passed away on Feb. 15, because there was already a lot of unusual activity that evening. Specifically, prison officials conducted their regular evening checks much faster than usual, before locking everyone in their barracks and increasing the number of guards on duty. Moreover, unknown vehicles visited the colony thrice during the night. On the morning of Feb. 16, prison officials conducted a search and confiscated objects, to which they had previously been turning a blind eye. Finally, the source stated that no ambulance visited the colony on that morning. Instead, it only arrived after Navalny’s death was made public.

According to another source of Novaya Gazeta Europe, there were bruises on Navalny’s body, presumably from first responders' attempts to deal with a seizure and cardiac arrest. The source has reasons to believe the body was taken to the morgue of the clinical hospital in Salekhard, but no autopsy has been done as of Feb. 17. He posits that local medical examiners were either prohibited from performing it or refused to conduct one themselves. Meanwhile, representatives from the central office of the Investigative Committee and Federal Penitentiary Service have reportedly arrived in Salekhard.

The OVD-Info project launched an online tool to facilitate appeals to the Investigative Committee to release Navalny’s body to his family. In less than a day, internet users submitted 29,000 such appeals. For its part, Novaya Gazeta has launched a petition calling on officials to release the video footage showing attempts to resuscitate Navalny, which would have been captured on body cameras worn by penal colony guards, to his family.

Activist Sergey Antonov from Udmurtia [Russia’s constituent republic] has filed a statement to the Investigative Committee demanding a case to be opened regarding the murder of Navalny. In his statement, Antonov noted that Putin had "personal motives" for the politician's murder, and he also had "all the necessary authority" for its organization. The activist demanded the Investigative Committee to examine the Russian president's involvement in the murder. Another person who requested an investigation was Viktor Vorobyov, a member of the State Council of Komi [constituent republic of Russia]. He speculated that Navalny's death could have been caused by improper medical care. The deputy demanded that prison staff and medical workers be held accountable for negligence.

According to a report by Bild citing unnamed sources, Moscow, Washington, and Berlin were allegedly negotiating the exchange of Aleksei Navalny shortly before his death. The Russian opposition figure was presumably intended to be exchanged for Russian agent Vadim Krasikov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of former Chechen field commander Zelimkhan Khangoshvili. The Wall Street Journal reported discussions of such an exchange in September 2023.

During the three days following the news of Aleksei Navalny's death, people in Russia and abroad laid flowers at various memorials to honor his memory. According to counts by the Vyorstka media outlet, events took place in at least 140 cities in Russia.

On the night of Feb. 17, the authorities removed the memorials and flowers laid at them, as reported from Moscow, Voronezh, Tomsk, Khabarovsk, Ufa and many other cities. Moreover, it was reported that local authorities interfered with the events held in memory of Alexei Navalny in eight foreign countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Belarus.

However, despite these actions, memorial events continued on the morning of Feb. 17. Police in several Russian cities, including Omsk, Orenburg, Tula, Khabarovsk, Tomsk, Kursk, Moscow, and Novocherkassk observed the events and even collected personal data of those who came. Additionally, in Irkutsk and Saint Petersburg, police photographed the attendees, while in Novosibirsk, law enforcement maintained a cordon around the memorial for over 16 hours due to alleged mining threats. However, when people began placing flowers directly on the snow near the cordoned memorial, police proceeded to detain them.

Unknown individuals packed flowers brought by Moscow residents to the Wall of Grief monument in memory of Navalny into black garbage bags. Memorials on Moscow's Moskvoretsky Bridge were destroyed under police supervision. In Saint Petersburg, three men looted the Navalny memorial near the monument to victims of political repression on Voskresenskaya Embankment. In Blagoveshchensk, municipal workers moved flowers from the "Memorial to the Repressed'' to the nearby monument "To the Fallen Soldiers," creating the illusion of support not for Alexei Navalny, but for the war. Flowers from the memorial to victims of political repression were removed in Volgograd, but city residents continue to bring them. Flowers are also laid in Salekhard but are quickly removed there as well. In Ivanovo, a janitor tasked with removing flowers from the memorial expressed confusion over why people keep bringing them. In Kazan, memorials in memory of Navalny are promptly destroyed. In Vologda, police quickly removed flowers brought to the monument to victims of political repression and filmed those who came on their phones. In Perm, unknown individuals constantly clear away flowers and candles from the memorial in memory of Navalny. In Yekaterinburg, graffiti appeared in memory of Alexei Navalny but was shortly painted over by people in masks. In Voronezh, opponents of the spontaneous memorial to Navalny attacked a man who tried to prevent them from taking away flowers and tearing up photos. In Chelyabinsk, journalist Ksenia Starikova was detained shortly after filming an unknown man destroying the memorial in memory of Navalny.

Law enforcement officers threaten those who attempt to lay flowers in memory of Alexei Navalny in various cities across Russia. In Syktyvkar, police detain anyone trying to lay flowers at the monument to victims of repression. In Vladimir, police officers collect passport information from people carrying flowers to the memorial of political repression victims, although they do not prevent the laying of flowers.

On Feb. 17, police sealed off the area around the Wall of Grief monument in central Moscow. According to witnesses, more than 10 people were detained, later exceeding 15. Despite the peaceful nature of the gathering, police began harsh detentions, but people continued to come to the Solovetsky Stone in Moscow to honor Navalny's memory, eventually covering the monument entirely with flowers. The next day in Moscow, police selectively searched the bags of people attending memorials, looking for photos of the politician and farewell posters. Law enforcement officers detained volunteers of the Nemtsov bridge after finding Navalny's photos among their belongings.

Hundreds of comments in memory of Alexei Navalny have appeared on 2GIS and Google maps. For example, residents of Chelyabinsk organized a "digital rally" in memory of Navalny on the 2GIS platform, leaving comments under the location where people have been bringing flowers in memory of the politician since the previous day. Meanwhile, 2GIS users from Omsk reported that the service restricted the posting of new reviews about the monument to victims of political repression after numerous comments about Navalny. In other regions, it has also been noticed that some reviews about memorials are being deleted. Additionally, users express grief in reviews of memorials on Google. However, similar comments were not found on Yandex, which is controlled by the state. According to information from the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, Roskomnadzor [Russia's internet censorship agency] distributed a list of tags related to Alexei Navalny's name that need to be urgently restricted in Russia. In Murmansk, printing houses refused to print posters mentioning Navalny.

Across Russia, more than 400 people were detained over two days: at least 110 individuals were detained on Feb. 16, and no less than 230 on the following day. The detainees included residents of Novosibirsk, Tver, Cheboksary, Belgorod, Yekaterinburg, Tomsk, Syktyvkar, Kursk, Saint Petersburg, Stavropol, and Novocherkassk. Law enforcement officers acted particularly harshly in Saint Petersburg, detaining over 200 people; at least 143 were held overnight in police departments, and 42 were arrested for laying flowers. According to the Fontanka media outlet, by the evening of Feb. 18 in Saint Petersburg, 103 people had received administrative penalties, and 85 faced arrests. OVD-Info, summarizing the three days of memorial events for Alexei Navalny, reported of at least 366 detained across the country, 34 were held overnight in police departments, 48 were in detention facilities, and another 128 were reportedly released without charges.

A Saint Petersburg resident has been sent to a pre-trial detention center by a court for making a "false inscription" on a fence on the day of Navalny's death, although the exact content of the inscription remains undisclosed. Oleg Filatchev, a lawyer from Saint Petersburg, was arrested for 10 days after attempting to lay flowers at Navalny's memorial and has since begun a dry hunger strike.

On Feb. 17, priest Grigory Mikhnov-Vaytenko was detained in Saint Petersburg as he was leaving his home, intending to hold a memorial service for Alexei Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone. He was taken to the Petrogradsky District Regional Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Later that evening, the priest was transported to a hospital directly from the police department. He is currently in intensive care, diagnosed with an ischemic stroke. Despite these events, the memorial service at the Solovetsky Stone proceeded as planned, resulting in the detention of at least seven individuals.

Film director Zosya Rodkevich, known for creating the film "My Friend Boris Nemtsov" about the Russian opposition leader, was detained at the memorial event in Moscow. She was later released by the police.

Mother and daughter, Nika and Lora, were detained by the police in Yekaterinburg during a flower-laying ceremony. The authorities did not explain the reasons for their detention. They were taken to the police station, and an advocate was denied access to them. According to the Vecherniye Vedomosti [Evening Gazette] media outlet, Lora's husband was mobilized despite reaching the maximum age limit, and her son was killed in the war in 2022.

In Barnaul, the police detained activist Artyom Sakharov, who brought flowers to the monument to the victims of political repression. He was arrested for 30 days for "repeated violation of the rules for holding rallies." Participant of Navalny's memorial event from Krasnodar, Andrey Vyazov, was arrested for 15 days for displaying symbols of an extremist organization. Three participants in the flower-laying event on Feb. 16 in the center of Moscow were arrested for 15 days. At least one person (according to OVD-Info, Dmitry Kuzmenko) was assaulted in the prisoner van by the police. In some cases, the detainees were immediately released. In Surgut, Bakyt Karipbaev was arrested and assaulted by police officers after laying flowers, subjected to ethnic slurs and threatened with a gun. He shared the details of the assault with the Sibir.Realii [part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty] online media outlet. In Taganrog, according to the Gorizontalnaya Rossiya [Horizontal Russia] news outlet, violence was also used against some detainees. A resident of Tver was detained for distributing leaflets saying "Federal Penitentiary Service - Shame of Russia."

Yury Shevchuk, the lead singer of rock band DDT, who still lives in Russia, gave a speech about Alexei Navalny at their concert in Astana, Kazakhstan, followed by the band performing their song "Svoboda" [Freedom] in his memory.

Meduza [international Russian-language online media outlet] has prepared instructions for those who want to lay flowers at a memorial or to picket in Navalny’s memory. OVD-Info has answered questions regarding the safety of participating in such events. They have also reiterated basic safety rules and explained what to do if you or your loved ones were detained.

The news of Alexei Navalny’s death has deeply affected many people. The most important thing to do these days is to preserve yourself and support your loved ones. The 7x7—Gorizontalnaya Rossiya [Horizontal Russia] news outlet has talked to experts on what is important to know to cope with loss and help yourself move on, while Meduza has prepared a guide to help individuals to go through their grief. In emergencies, when feeling overwhelmed, seeking a specialist's advice is essential. Assistance can be accessed, for example, through the chatbot of the Without Prejudice counseling project.