In Prison or Out, Navalny Was the Thorn in Putin’s Side

The death of Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, at a remote Arctic prison on Friday ended one of the most audacious political careers of modern times and left wartime Russia without its most charismatic antiwar voice.

Mr. Navalny, whose death was reported by Russian authorities, stood as the most outspoken critic of President Vladimir V. Putin for more than a decade, harnessing broad opposition to the Russian leader more successfully than any other foe of the Kremlin. After surviving a poisoning widely seen as the Kremlin’s doing in 2020 and recovering in Germany, Mr. Navalny returned to Russia in 2021, and was immediately arrested.

But Mr. Navalny, a joking, gregarious, straight-talking former real estate lawyer, stayed relevant even from prison, publishing Instagram posts via messages relayed by his lawyers that were at once humorous and outraged. He pleaded with Russians not to give up or give in to their fears, and railed against the “criminal” war in Ukraine, which he said would bring the “continued impoverishment of Russian people.”

The reports of his death stunned his supporters and politicians around the world. Mikhail Vinogradov, a Moscow political analyst, described it as the most shocking death of a Russian politician in the country’s post-Soviet history. Russians gathered for impromptu vigils in cities around the world, while images of people laying flowers at memorial sites in Russian cities ricocheted across social media.

“I wanted to believe that Russia had its own Nelson Mandela,” said a 28-year-old man in an interview from the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, asking his name not be used for his safety. “Today, this man is gone.”

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was notified of Mr. Navalny’s death, his spokesman said, but did not comment on it. President Biden, at the White House, said it was clear that “Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.” And in Munich, in an unscheduled appearance at the podium of a high-level security conference, Mr. Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, pledged that Mr. Putin’s government would be “brought to justice.”

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