A Hero Emerging From Navalny’s Shadow—and Playing Putin’s Game!

Concerns about the succession to the position of Russian opposition leader have been circulating since the passing of Alexei Navalny. After a life spent dodging interviews and the limelight, his widow Yulia Navalnaya has suddenly emerged, declaring her intention to carry on her husband’s struggle.

“I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny,” she said in a video posted to social media. “And I call on you to stand beside me. Not only to share the grief and the endless pain that has engulfed us. I ask you to share the fury. The fury, the anger, the hatred toward those who have dared to destroy our future.”

Efforts to highlight Navalny’s political future vision for Russia are already underway. Shortly after Moscow broke the news of her husband’s death, Navalnaya made a passing reference to her children while speaking at the Munich Security Conference. Her choice, however, was to address Navalny’s passing while also urging Russians to maintain their resistance to Putin.

“I thought, what would Alexei do in my place? And I am sure that he would be here, on this stage,” she said. “I want to call on the entire global community, on all the people in the world to come together so that we can defeat this evil, defeat this horrifying regime that is in power in Russia.”

An account from Yevgenia Albats, a Russian journalist and close associate of the late dissident who escaped prosecution in Russia for her coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, states that Navalnaya has long been instrumental behind the scenes for Navalny, carefully advising him.

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“She always was by his side,” Albats told The Daily Beast. “She was his closest adviser and they discussed a lot together of his steps and responses and how he was going to present those.”

Albats added that Navalnaya may be in a good position to unite Russians in their desire to avenge Navalny’s killing and that her remark demonstrates a clear departure from her previous stance on the present political climate.

“Definitely when I listened to it. I thought that it was the first time that Yulia gave a political speech. It wasn’t just a speech of a mourning widow. It was a political speech,” Albats, who is currently a research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, told The Daily Beast. “It became clear that she is going to get into his shoes.”

“She has a very powerful motive to lead the opposition because for her it’s about revenge—for many of us it’s now about revenge. She wants to see Putin and all those willing executioners who killed Navalny” to be held accountable.

A New World

In response to Navalnaya’s attempt to run, the Kremlin is already taking action. The same treatment that Navalny received was threatened by Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov on Tuesday against Navalnaya. “Navalnaya will meet the same fate,” he spoke. “She will be thrown into prison if she travels to Russia.”

Navalnaya may be prepared to lead the Russian opposition movement forward, but many Russians recognize that Navalny is irreplaceable and that his death creates a void that the opposition will attempt to fill.

In terms of replacing Navalny as a leader, I just think it’s kind of impossible,” stated Maxim Alyukov, a research associate with the King’s College London Russia Institute, in an interview with The Daily Beast. “One of the most astute politicians when it came to developing fresh, alternative approaches to politics was he.”

Many members of the opposition are either exiled or living abroad, but few enjoy the level of widespread support that Navalny has. Among the other dissidents still in prison are Ilya Yashin and those who pledged to continue Navalny’s struggle.

As long as my heart beats in my chest, I will fight tyranny. As long as I live, I will fear no evil,” Yashin said. “I understand my own risks. I’m behind bars, my life is in Putin’s hands, and it’s in danger. But I will continue to stick to my line.”

Albats cautioned that Yashin may confront severe punishment for speaking out against Putin and that his battle may be difficult as he is operating from behind bars. “It’s very hard to become a leader sitting in jail. The kind of stuff that Navalny did nobody could and nobody can,” Albats told The Daily Beast.

“If he tries to come up with a different political statement out of jail, he’s going to experience extremely harsh punishments from the side of those criminals.” In addition to Navalny, other anti-regime figures still in the mix include oligarch and prominent exile opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky, popular YouTuber Maxim Katz, and strategist Leonid Volkov.

In a statement on social media, Volkov promised to continue Navalny’s activism. “From himself and from everyone around him, he demanded one thing: not to give up,” Volkov said. “This is what he wants from us now. His life’s work must win.” According to Alyukov, the Russian opposition may grow in the future with a decentralized and united front rather than a centralized one.

“I think it will necessarily be a more decentralized structure than it was, say, five years ago,” Alyukov said. “It’s very difficult to find those people who have these qualities who are ready to die and become a center of attention, like Navalny, and then end up in prison and die. Not everyone is ready to sacrifice.”

Similar to what Khodorkovsky said, he thinks the opposition leaders will work together more in the future. “Our reaction to his murder must be to join forces, carry on his work together, and ensure that hope for a democratic Russia does not die with him.”

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