Funeral for Deceased Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Draws Thousands in Moscow

Ceremony for Putin’s fiercest domestic critic draws well-wishers despite Kremlin’s warning against ‘unauthorized gatherings.’
Funeral for Deceased Putin Critic Alexei Navalny Draws Thousands in Moscow
Lyudmila Navalnaya (3rd R front) and Anatoly Navalny (2nd R front), parents of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attend a funeral ceremony for their son at the Borisovskoye Cemetery in Moscow on March 1, 2024. (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)
Adam Morrow

Thousands of Russians turned out on March 1 for the funeral of Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition figure who died abruptly last month—at age 47—in an Arctic penal colony.

Surrounded by police, mourners chanted Mr. Navalny’s name in unison outside of the Moscow church where the funeral was held.

An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Navalny died suddenly on Feb. 16, sparking accusations from his supporters—and a host of Western leaders—that he had been murdered by the Russian authorities.

The Kremlin, for its part, has steadfastly denied any state involvement in his death, the causes of which have yet to be determined.

According to Mr. Navalny’s supporters, his death certificate states that he died of natural causes.

A photograph posted on social media shows Mr. Navalny’s body inside a flower-strewn coffin as his grieving father and mother—the latter wearing a black headscarf—sits nearby.

His wife and two children, who reside outside Russia, were unable to join the event.

One man in attendance, who declined to provide his name or age, told the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper: “I’m here to support his family and show they are not alone.

“We’re all here together.

“Nobody is afraid.”

Following the brief service, which was presided over by an Orthodox priest, the coffin was carried from the church as mourners shouted out anti-Putin slogans.

“We won’t forget!” some cried. “Putin is a murderer!”

Others shouted, “Russia will be free!”

One young man in attendance hailed the deceased opposition figure as “a symbol of resistance” against tyranny and injustice.

Mr. Navalny’s body was then transported across the Moskva River for burial at the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery.

More than a quarter of a million people watched the funeral on Mr. Navalny’s official YouTube channel, which is blocked inside Russia.

The live video was accompanied by thousands of messages, posted by Mr. Navalny’s supporters in real time, expressing both sorrow and defiance.

In the immediate run-up to the funeral, Russian supporters of Mr. Navalny accused authorities of preempting their plans to hold a much larger service.

Before Mr. Navalny’s death, the movement he led had been labeled “extremist” by the Kremlin, while his supporters were portrayed as Western agents bent on fomenting revolution in Russia.

A former lawyer, Mr. Navalny had been a vocal critic of Russia’s ongoing invasion of eastern Ukraine, which recently entered its third year.

Many of his supporters have claimed that Mr. Putin personally ordered his murder to prevent his release in a future prisoner exchange.

They have not provided evidence for the assertion, but have nevertheless vowed to reveal how he was murdered—and by whom.

The Kremlin has said that it was unaware of any plan to eventually free Mr. Navalny in a prisoner swap.

Mr. Navalny’s funeral comes two weeks before Russia will hold a presidential election that Mr. Putin—in power for more than two decades—is almost sure to win.

While he was alive, Mr. Navalny had posed one of the most determined political challenges to Mr. Putin since the latter first assumed power in the final days of 1999.

Along with organizing frequent street protests, Mr. Navalny had published a series of high-profile investigations into alleged corruption by Russia’s ruling elite.

In 2022, he was slapped with a nine-year jail term by the Russian authorities after being found guilty of embezzlement and contempt of court.

The following year, he was sentenced to another 19 years in prison on charges of espousing “extremism.”

At the time, Mr. Navalny and his supporters, along with several Western rights groups, said the charges against him were politically motivated.

Most of his Russian supporters have either fled the country or are themselves in jail.

While Mr. Navalny was alive, Mr. Putin seldom mentioned him by name.

Nor has the Russian leader issued a statement on Mr. Navalny’s untimely death.

Although Mr. Navalny was a well-known political figure in the West, he received scant—and generally negative—coverage from Russian state media during his life.

Shortly before his funeral, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned the deceased activist’s supporters against taking part in any “unauthorized gatherings.”

“There is a law, and it must be followed,” he said at a press briefing. “Unauthorized gatherings will be in violation of that law.

“Those who participate in them will be held responsible.”

When asked if the Kremlin could provide an assessment of Mr. Navalny’s activities during his lifetime, Mr. Peskov responded, “No, it cannot.”

Reuters contributed to this report.