His associates, his widow and Western countries accuse President Putin of responsibility for his death

Thousands attend Navalni's funeral in Moscow amid fears of arrests

El cuerpo del fallecido líder opositor ruso Alexei Navalni es visto durante un servicio fúnebre en la iglesia Madre de Dios Apaga Mis Dolores en Moscú, el 1 de marzo de 2024 – PHOTO/AFP
photo_camera The body of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalni is seen during a funeral service at the Mother of God Extinguish My Sorrows church in Moscow on March 1, 2024 - PHOTO/AFP

Thousands of supporters of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalni gathered Friday to pay tribute to him at a Moscow church ahead of his funeral, despite the risk of arrest.

  1. "Fear and sadness"
  2. "Dishonoured memory‚ÄĚ

The body of Vladimir Putin's main detractor was briefly laid out in a church in Marino, a southeastern district of the Russian capital, in the presence of his relatives. In accordance with the Orthodox rite, his body was laid out in an open coffin, covered with dozens of red and white flowers. Several attendees carried candles, an AFP journalist noted.

The hearse carrying the activist's coffin had arrived at the church a short time earlier to the applause of the crowd.

From early in the morning, a long line of thousands of people formed, amid heavy police surveillance, in front of the church, located in the district where Navalni lived before his arrest.

"It is painful, people like him should not die, honest, principled people, ready to sacrifice themselves," said Anna Stepanova, also underlining the oppositionist's "sense of humour". "Even in pain he made jokes."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that any "unauthorised" demonstrations on the occasion of the funeral could be punished. During his daily press briefing, Peskov also said he had "nothing to say" to the family of the deceased.

After a quick funeral, the opposition leader's coffin was moved to the Borisovo cemetery, near the church and a short walk from the Moscow River, Ivan Jdanov, one of Navalny's closest associates, said on Telegram.
The funeral took place two weeks after the 47-year-old opposition leader died on 16 February in an Arctic prison in circumstances that have yet to be clarified.

His associates, his widow and Western countries accuse President Putin of being responsible for his death, which the Kremlin denies.

His body was held for eight days, a delay that his team attributes to an attempt to cover up the cause of death.
Dozens of members of the security forces were deployed in the area and the authorities cordoned off the road between the church and the cemetery with metal barriers.

Alexéi Navalni - PHOTO/FILE
Alexéi Navalni - PHOTO/FILE

"Fear and sadness"

Three leading Russian opposition figures, Evegueni Roizman, Boris Nadezhdin and Ekaterina Duntsova, as well as the French and German ambassadors, attended the funeral services.

Among the crowd were people with flowers and visibly moved.

"We don't have politicians like this any more and nobody knows when we will have them again," Maria, a 55-year-old librarian, told AFP, who said she felt both "fear and sadness".

Denis, a 26-year-old charity volunteer, said Navalni was the one who got him "interested in politics" in a country with an increasingly authoritarian regime where young people's disaffection with such issues is high.

After the family recovered the opposition leader's body on Saturday, they struggled to find a place that would agree to host the ceremony.

"Dishonoured memory"

Still, Navalni's team called on Muscovites to come to the church and say goodbye to the deceased, and on his supporters in other cities and abroad to rally in front of memorials to honour his memory.

Events that could prove disruptive to the government, two weeks before the 15-17 March presidential elections, which are likely to confirm Putin in power.

In the days following Navalny's death, nearly 400 people were detained by police at several impromptu rallies organised to pay tribute to him.

The opposition leader's widow, Yulia Navalnaya, lamented on Wednesday that no civil ceremony had been authorised to allow her husband's body to be displayed to the public, as is customary when prominent Russian figures die.

"People in the Kremlin killed him, then they dishonoured his body, they dishonoured his mother and now they dishonour his memory," she criticised, blaming Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin for the situation.

Before his poisoning in 2020, which he narrowly survived and for which he accused Putin, and his arrest and 19-year prison sentence for "extremism", Navalni was able to mobilise large numbers of people, especially in the Russian capital.

His movement, which investigated and denounced the corruption of Russian elites, was dismantled in recent years. Many of her collaborators were imprisoned or forced into exile.

Now, Yulia Navalnaya vows to continue her husband's fight.