Navalny’s team accuses Kremlin of hiding activist’s body

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Russian officials have refused to tell Alexei Navalny’s family the probable cause of his death or whereabouts of his body, which the late opposition activist’s team claim is a Kremlin-orchestrated cover-up.

Navalny’s mother Lyudmila and family lawyers have spent the past three days in a remote part of northern Russia trying to recover his body and establish a cause of death after the activist’s death in prison was announced on Friday.

But on Monday, Russian investigators told them the probe into Navalny’s death had been extended for an indefinite period of time, while staff at the morgue would not say if they had his body.

“They are lying, buying time for themselves, and not even hiding it,” Kira Yarmysh, a Navalny family spokesperson, wrote on social media.

The secrecy surrounding Navalny’s death in the IK-3 maximum security prison colony in Kharp, a small town in the Arctic Circle, has led his allies to believe he was probably murdered on the orders of President Vladimir Putin.

EU member states are expected to seek new sanctions against Moscow over Navalny’s death, the union’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“We have to send a message of support to Russian opposition,” said Josep Borrell. “So on both fronts, the political one and the military one, we have to continue our support to Ukraine and to the Russian people who want to be living in freedom.” Navalny’s widow Yulia is joining a gathering of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

The Kremlin said on Monday investigators were “doing everything necessary” to establish the cause of Navalny’s death and rejected western accusations of Putin’s involvement.

“When there is no information, it is unacceptable to make these rude statements,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “These statements cannot do any damage to the leader of our country, but they definitely do not make the people saying them look good.”

Peskov said the Kremlin “was not involved” in the investigation or the handling of Navalny’s body.

A fierce critic of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, Navalny, 47, had been imprisoned since returning to Russia in 2021 after recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Russian president.

Despite the toll 27 stints in a punishment cell took on his health, conditions he described as torture, Navalny seemed normal in a court appearance last Thursday and during a visit with family three days earlier, further fuelling his allies’ suspicions.

Shortly before midnight on Friday, a convoy of police and prison service vehicles drove along the only road from Kharp to Salekhard, the town where officials at the penal colony told Navalny’s mother his body had been taken to the morgue.

Security camera footage of the unusual convoy, published on Sunday by Mediazona, an independent Russian media outlet, raised suspicions that it was secretly transporting Navalny’s body in the dead of night.

Ivan Zhdanov, director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, likened the delays and mixed messages to the circus-like atmosphere that accompanied Navalny’s hospitalisation after he was poisoned with the nerve agent novichok in Siberia in 2020.

“This happened with the belongings they wouldn’t give back after he was poisoned. They kept extending the investigation and never returned any of it,” Zhdanov wrote on social media.

“It’s obvious what they are up to. They are wiping clear the traces of their own crime. They are waiting until the war of hatred and fury against them calms down,” he added.

Thousands of Russians in dozens of cities across the country lined up in freezing temperatures over the weekend to lay flowers for Navalny at memorials to Soviet political prisoners.

Russia has in effect banned all dissent since the invasion of Ukraine, making the memorials the only legal form of protest over his death. The Kremlin has banned Navalny’s foundation, which now operates from exile, and arrested several of his lawyers last year.

Police violently cracked down on several of the memorials, arresting at least 387 people in 39 cities, according to independent rights monitor OVD-Info. Activists said police in some cities forced mourners to give them their passport details or submit written explanations, while others reported physical threats.

The Kremlin has played down the news of Navalny’s death, limiting state television news to brief comments without showing his face while airing wild claims that the west was somehow involved.

Putin, who is set to extend his 24-year rule until at least 2030 in elections next month for which the Kremlin has allowed no real challenger, has not commented on Navalny’s death.

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