Navalny's widow to meet EU ministers as Russia jails mourners

Agence France-Presse
Navalny's widow to meet EU ministers as Russia jails mourners
Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends the Munich Security Conference (MSC), on the day Alexei Navalny's death was announced by the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region where he had been serving his sentence, in Munich, southern Germany on February 16, 2024.
AFP / Thomas Kienzle

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Alexei Navalny's widow will meet European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, EU officials announced, as Russian courts jailed dozens of people detained at events commemorating the Kremlin critic.

The 47-year-old opposition leader died in an Arctic prison on Friday after spending more than three years behind bars, prompting outrage and condemnation from Western leaders and his supporters.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would welcome Yulia Navalnaya to the bloc's Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

"EU Ministers will send a strong message of support to freedom fighters in Russia" and "honour" Navalny's memory, he added on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

Navalny was Russia's most prominent opposition leader and garnered a huge following as he campaigned against corruption under President Vladimir Putin.

In the hours following the announcement that her husband had died, Navalnaya, who had not seen him in two years, said she held Putin personally responsible.

She called on the international community to "unite and defeat this evil, terrifying regime".

Italy's Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said Navalnaya's words "will make us feel the threat that weighs on Russian citizens and on every region of our Europe", where "violence, brutality, and war have been shamefully and irresponsibly returned".

Mourners jailed

Russian authorities have suppressed memorials and tributes to Navalny and courts have jailed dozens of mourners.

Rights groups say police have detained more than 400 people at gatherings paying tribute to the opposition figure.

In Saint Petersburg alone, courts handed short jail terms to 154 people detained at events commemorating Navalny in violation of Russia's anti-protest laws, according to details of rulings published by the city's court service over the weekend.

Rights groups and independent media outlets reported a handful of similar sentences in other cities across the country.

Anti-Kremlin demonstrations or public shows of opposition to the regime are effectively illegal in Russia under strict military censorship rules and laws against unapproved rallies.

In Moscow, the US ambassador visited a makeshift shrine to Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone on Sunday, a monument to political repression that has become a major site of tributes for Navalny.

At a separate makeshift memorial known as the "Wall of Grief", a bronze monument to Soviet-era repression, police had set up fences in a bid to ward off mourners.

Several dozen police officers could be seen standing nearby, but some people were allowed to enter through the fence and lay flowers, an AFP reporter saw.

Lula urges caution

While many Western European leaders have directly or indirectly blamed Putin for Navalny's death, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva cautioned against rushing to judgement.

Speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa, where he was attending an African Union summit, Lula said it was important to avoid "speculation" and await the results of an autopsy.

"If you judge now and say I-don't-know-who ordered the killing and it wasn't them, afterwards you have to apologise. Why the rush to accuse?"

Navalny could have been sick or had a health problem, said Lula, warning against "trivialising" accusations of murder.

Lula has faced criticism for being soft on Putin, his fellow leader in the BRICS group -- which stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa but was recently expanded to include several other emerging powers.

The Brazilian president has been critical of the US and European responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying Kyiv shares the blame for the conflict and refusing to join international sanctions on Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Western leaders on Friday of "absolutely unacceptable" and "hysterical" reactions to Navalny's death.

In several cities around Europe, Navalny supporters continued to pay tribute to him Sunday.

In Germany, people laid flowers and candles at a memorial in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin.

In Romania, a similar tribute appeared outside the Russian embassy in Bucharest.

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