Funeral for Navalny in Moscow draws thousands, defying Putin

Russia’s opposition came alive for a day to mourn its fallen leader.

The funeral of Alexei Navalny on Friday seemed almost impossible to organize. However, despite the obstacles, thousands of people gathered, defying the snow, heightened security, and the Kremlin’s attempts to disrupt the event. Their purpose was to honor the memory of a man who fearlessly confronted President Vladimir Putin, advocating for a democratic Russia.

The crowd, holding flowers, candles, and placards, fervently chanted Navalny’s name as they accompanied his body to a church in southern Moscow for a short funeral service. From there, they proceeded to a nearby cemetery.

In a country where the state suppresses even the slightest form of dissent, the crowd was bold enough to utter words that carried significant risk. Amongst the clamorous masses, phrases like “Russia without Putin!”, “Russia will be free!”, and even “Putin is a murderer!” could be heard.

Navalny’s supporters allege that he was poisoned under Putin’s orders, a claim that the Kremlin vehemently denies.

The entire world watched the funeral, as it was broadcasted on YouTube to allow supporters of Navalny to follow the event online. Prior to the funeral, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov issued a warning, stating that any unauthorized gathering would face consequences.

The event had a strong security presence, with police stationed on rooftops and guarding Navalny’s old house nearby. According to reports from opposition media, at least two individuals were detained during the event. It is worth noting that Russian intelligence services have previously utilized surveillance footage to identify and penalize protesters retrospectively.

According to Bill Browder, an American businessman turned arch Kremlin critic, the death of Navalny and the subsequent crackdown demonstrate “an absolute panic on Putin’s side.” Browder believes that despite Putin’s highly likely victory in the upcoming election, the Russian president is feeling fearful in anticipation of the so-called election, which he views as not truly democratic. Browder argues that Putin’s current tactics are purely repressive measures aimed at keeping the population in check.

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The day was filled with geopolitical tension between Moscow and the West. Diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne M. Tracy, were present at the event, which took place a day after Putin restated his threats of nuclear war.

The U.S. Embassy expressed their view that Navalny is a beacon of hope for what Russia has the potential to become. In a post on X, they stated, “His death serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the extreme measures the Kremlin is willing to take in order to silence those who dare to criticize.”

Amidst Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, which Navalny was against, a portion of the crowd at the protest expressed their opposition by chanting, “No to war!” Despite the challenges in accurately assessing public opinion in Russia due to the suppression of dissent, polls indicate that those against the war remain a minority. Furthermore, the Kremlin has been able to highlight its recent advancements on the battlefield.

According to Bill Browder, author of “Red Notice: A True Story of Corruption, Murder, and how I became Putin’s no. 1 enemy,” prior to today, approximately 400 individuals had been arrested for the simple act of laying flowers at Navalny memorials across the country following his death on February 16 in an Arctic penal colony. Browder believes that this was a deliberate tactic employed by the Kremlin to discourage mourners from attending Navalny’s funeral. Despite this intimidation, the defiance displayed by those who attended the funeral on Friday was particularly notable, Browder added.

“It was a surprising sight to witness the bravery of the people who came out to honor his memory, with several kilometers of individuals taking the risk to be present,” he expressed. “For every person who had the courage to show their face on the streets, there are countless others back home who may be scared but still hold a deep sense of outrage.”

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According to Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, he described it as “the best film on earth.” It’s easy to see why a tale about a determined and courageous group standing up against an overwhelmingly strong adversary would strike a chord with him. This last touch evoked the comedic persona Navalny showcased during his court hearings while he was incarcerated in the last stages of his life.

Friday’s display of resistance from his supporters was certainly remarkable. However, it is unlikely to have a significant impact in the near future. Putin is expected to win by a wide margin in the upcoming election, as he has eliminated any credible opposition.

Putin, who was first elected in 2000, has surpassed the tenure of any previous leader since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Throughout his time in power, which has been characterized by increasingly repressive measures, human rights organizations have voiced their concerns.

The funeral saw the presence of those who had opposed Navalny, including the exiled, incarcerated, and deceased. However, what stood out was the absence of Navalny’s wife, who has made a commitment to continue his battle.

“I cannot fathom a life without you, but I will strive to bring you happiness and make you proud of me from beyond,” expressed Yulia Navalnaya in a heartfelt message on social media. “I am uncertain if I possess the strength to navigate this journey, but I am determined to give it my best.”

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