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Young Russians voice fear, disbelief over Navalny death

AFP 20240216 34JH2N7 v1 HighRes FilesRussiaPoliticsNavalnyObit

In the streets of Moscow, young Russians voiced disbelief and fear on Friday at the news that opposition leader Alexei Navalny had died in his Arctic prison colony.

“I’m afraid. Afraid of what will happen next. Afraid of what the state can do with its citizens,” said Mark, an 18-year-old student.

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Valeria, 28, said Navalny was “a symbol of hope for some kind of better future for Russia“.

“I feel that with his death that hope dies too,” the tour guide said.

“I think a lot of people will just give up because people always need a symbol for any opposition.”

Navalny had been President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken critic for years and managed to galvanise huge street protests despite Russia’s harsh laws against demonstrations.

He became a household name through his popular exposes of official corruption in Putin’s Russia.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recuperating from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

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In a string of cases he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by independent rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

Fellow opposition figures and human rights campaigners reacted with shock to the death.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov described the death as “murder” and said he had been tortured for “years”.

Rights campaigner Oleg Orlov said it was “a crime of the regime”.

“I’m shaking,” said Maria, a 22-year-old IT specialist.

“I feel like I lost a relative. This is a big loss for the whole of the Russian opposition,” she said.

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Artur, a 27-year-old student, said he could not believe the news and hoped the official announcement of Navalny’s death was not true.

“If it really is true then it would be a tragedy because Navalny stood for positive change in the future, future reforms that could improve conditions for us,” he said.

Artur said he felt anger at the death and wanted to leave Russia “because you give up believing in positive changes,” he said.

© Agence France-Presse