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Navalny’s death is a warning to Putin challengers, activist Bill Browder says

Click to play video: 'Alexei Navalny death: Political activist Bill Browder remembers his friend'
Alexei Navalny death: Political activist Bill Browder remembers his friend
Police in Russia arrested citizens on Saturday for attending more memorials honouring Alexei Navalny, who is now confirmed to have died in an Arctic prison. But beyond Russia, protests and tributes keep pouring in for the anti-corruption activist and staunch opponent of Vladimir Putin. Bill Browder, a political activist and friend of Navalny joins Neetu Garcha from Munich, Germany. – Feb 17, 2024

The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has spurred a strong reaction from supporters across the globe, but political activist Bill Browder is cautioning about what the Kremlin foe’s demise could mean for other critics of president Vladimir Putin.

No official cause of death has been established yet, but Browder told Global News he believes Navalny, who was also a good friend of his, died because he stood up to the Russian leader.

“I think the point that Putin wanted to make was, that by killing Alexei Navalny, anyone else who tries this will die,” Browder said. “Alexei challenged him and he died.”

Navalny’s death was announced Friday by the Arctic penal colony where he was held. Russia’s Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday and lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived to try to rehabilitate him, but he died, The Associated Press and Reuters reported, citing those Russian officials.

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Navalny, 47, had been serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism, which his allies had labelled as politically motivated.

His death — less than a month before an election that will give Putin another six years in power — has relieved Putin of his greatest political foe, one who organized mass anti-Kremlin protests and crusaded against corruption. Navalny’s death has also deprived the Russian opposition of its most well-known politician.

Click to play video: 'Defence Minister Blair says feds exploring ways to hold ‘this very oppressive regime to account’ following Navalny death'
Defence Minister Blair says feds exploring ways to hold ‘this very oppressive regime to account’ following Navalny death

“It’s basically a very dangerous game to stand up to Putin because he can’t tolerate any type of criticism,” said Browder, who added there is “no question” that he too is a target and has been the subject to death threats, extradition requests and more.

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“The reason that Putin killed Navalny was because he was scared. He’s scared because it’s a brutal regime. He’s scared because he can only run Russia with repression,” he said.

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Browder spoke to Global News while at the Munich Security Conference, where major political figures and officials from around the world gather annually to discuss international security policy. He says all attendees were “shocked” and “outraged” by the reports of Navalny’s death, given the immense sanctions put on Putin and Russia since the country first invaded Ukraine in 2022.

“It’s hard to think of what additional sanctions we can put on him, which would have any effect. But I think that the main thing that the international community should do right now is try to save the other political prisoners who are in jail,” he said.

Browder says the remaining Putin challengers in prison are “proponents of democracy,” like Navalny. Without them, “there will be nobody left to be westernized leaders of Russia,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Will Moscow hand over the body of Alexei Navalny?'
Will Moscow hand over the body of Alexei Navalny?

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Navalny’s mother had been told by prison officials that her son had perished due to “sudden death syndrome.”

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She added that an employee of the prison colony said that Navalny’s body was taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a probe into his death, and would not be returned to the family until official tests are done.

Salekhard’s Investigative Committee told one of Navalny’s lawyers that the cause of his death had not yet been established, the spokesperson said.

Browder says he is trying to hold onto hope for Russia, but feels “quite pessimistic at the moment.”

“There’s some chance that it all comes undone for Putin, but until it does, he is running a totally repressive, totalitarian state where almost nothing is possible,” he said.

On Saturday, more than 100 people were detained in various Russian cities when they came to lay flowers in memory of Navalny at memorials to the victims of Soviet-era purges, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia.

“This is not only a tragedy for Alexei Navalny’s family, for his friends, but this is a tragedy for the Russian people, because Alexei Navalny was someone who gave everybody hope,” Browder said.

–with files from Global News’ Neetu Garcha and The Associated Press

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