Russian spymaster said opposition leader Alexei Navalny died of natural causes

Russia’s spymaster said Tuesday that opposition leader Alexei Navalny died of natural causes, a statement that appeared to reflect the Kremlin’s efforts to assuage international outrage over the death of President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe.

Sergei Naryshkin, the director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, the top spy agency known under its Russian acronym SVR, made the statement in an interview broadcast by Russian state television. He didn’t name the cause of Navalny’s death in a remote Arctic penal colony or give any other details.

“Sooner or later life ends and people die,” he said. “Navalny has died of natural causes.”

Navalny died on Feb. 16 at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism.

Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of his death at age 47 and many Western leaders blamed it on Putin, an accusation the Kremlin angrily rejected.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, had spent eight to get authorities to release her son’s body as officials claimed that they needed to conduct post-mortem tests. She made made a video appeal to Putin to let her bury her son with dignity.

Navalny was buried Friday in a Moscow suburb in a funeral that drew thousands of mourners amid a heavy police presence. His team said several Moscow churches refused to hold the funeral.

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. His Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government that same year.

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