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Navalny’s mom says Russian authorities pressuring her to hold secret burial

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RIGA, Latvia — The mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said on Thursday that Russian authorities were trying to “blackmail” her into accepting a secret burial, after they finally allowed her to see his corpse for the first time since his sudden death in prison last Friday.

The authorities also issued her a death certificate saying he had died of “natural causes,” said Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh. Navalny’s family and his team say he was murdered and that authorities have used the delay in releasing his body to cover up any evidence.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, whose son was President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable rival, said in a video posted on YouTube that the Investigative Committee in the northern town of Salekhard, near the prison where he died, was still refusing to release the body to her while pressuring her for a secret burial.

The struggle by officials to prevent a public funeral indicates the Kremlin’s sensitivity that the burial could become a focus for Navalny’s supporters, hundreds of whom have risked arrest in cities across Russia to pay their respects by laying flowers at makeshift memorials.

Meanwhile, Russian state television propagandists warned on Thursday that Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, faces arrest, if she returns to Russia.

Yulia Navalnaya has vowed to carry on her husband’s crusade for democracy in Russia and in a post Wednesday on X bluntly accused the authoritarian Russian leader of killing him. “Putin killed Alexei,” she wrote.

What to know about Yulia Navalnaya as she vows to take on Vladimir Putin

Putin is certain to secure another term in a highly managed presidential election due next month, and in his latest show of bravado he took a flight on Thursday on a Tu 160 M strategic bomber — a photo opportunity that pro-Kremlin commentator Sergei Markov described as a message to the West: “We are ready to use nuclear weapons against you to protect Russia.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya traveled to the Polar Wolf prison colony in Russia’s far north Nenets region on Saturday, the day after her son’s death and has been locked in battle since then with local officials, demanding that they release his body to her from the morgue in the nearby town of Salekhard.

On Thursday, she said she was finally allowed to see the body but was taken in secret, separated from the lawyers who had accompanied her on the trip.

“Last night they secretly took me to the morgue where they showed me Alexei,” Lyudmila Navalnaya said, adding that she had signed the death certificate required to recover his body.

“By law, they’re supposed to give me Alexei’s body immediately, but they haven’t done that up to now,” she said in the video message addressed to her son’s supporters. “Instead, they are blackmailing me, setting conditions on where, when and how Alexey should be buried. This is illegal.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya made a video appeal directly to Putin on Tuesday, which went ignored, and then filed suit accusing officials of illegally denying her the right to retrieve the body. The case is scheduled to be heard next month in closed session.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has twice skipped his usual daily conference call with reporters since Lyudmila Navalnaya’s video appeal.

For many young Russians, dreams of democracy died with Alexei Navalny

Navalnaya said she spent almost 24 hours at the Investigative Committee office, where she was denied the right to a lawyer until Thursday afternoon. During that time, officials tried to set conditions to prevent crowds gathering at a public funeral.

“They want it to be done secretly without a goodbye. They want to bring me to the edge of the cemetery to a fresh grave and say, ‘Here lies your son.’ I don’t agree to that,” she said. “I want you, to whom Alexei is dear, for whom his death was a personal tragedy, to have an opportunity to say goodbye to him. I am recording this video because they started threatening me.”

“Looking me in the eyes, they say that if I do not agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body,” she continued, adding that one investigator told her: “Time is not working for you. The corpse is decomposing.”

“I don’t want special conditions,” Navalnaya said. “I just want everything to be done according to the law. I demand that you give me my son’s body immediately.”

On Monday, Yulia Navalnaya said the authorities’ refusal to hand over his body to the family was part of a coverup to conceal the cause of his death.

In a sign of apprehension among Putin’s supporters — and perhaps the Kremlin — Yulia Navalnaya has become the target of a blizzard of disinformation, with claims circulating on social media that she could not suppress a smile when she appeared at the Munich Security Conference shortly after receiving the news that he had died.

Other false posts since then by pro-Kremlin figures on Telegram and on X accused her of “betraying” him or having an affair.

The first Russian attacks on Navalnaya preceded her dramatic video announcement on Monday that she planned to continue her husband’s work resisting Putin’s regime, and her accusation that the Russian leader had him poisoned.

Western governments have pledged to level more sanctions to punish Russia over Navalny’s death. On Wednesday, Britain imposed penalties, largely symbolic, on officials at the Polar North prison.

Navalnaya steps up to lead fight vs. Putin as morgue retains her husband’s body

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council told Russian journalists on Thursday that he had “nothing good” to say about Navalny, before smearing Navalnaya.

“Well, while you’re on the subject, look at the smiling, happy face of Navalny’s widow,” Medvedev said. “It feels like she’s been waiting for this event all these years to unfold her political life. Sad,” he said.

An investigation by Navalny’s team found that Medvedev while earning a government salary had amassed a huge portfolio of extravagant real estate, allegedly given to him by oligarchs as bribes.

Navalnaya responded by saying that she did not need anyone to defend her from Medvedev, whom she called “a waste of space.”

“They deliberately give you this idiot so that you can let off steam on him,” Navalnaya posted on X, where in recent days she has reached more than 300,000 followers. “Write that Putin killed Alexei. Write every day. For as long as you have the energy.”

Pro-Kremlin accounts on X posted a digitally altered 11-year-old image of Navalnaya designed to discredit her, part of the blizzard of disinformation.

The original image showed her joyfully hugging her husband when he was released by a court in Kirov 2013 after being convicted on trumped-up fraud charges — the first of many criminal cases mounted against him after he emerged as a popular figure capable of mobilizing protests against Putin and corruption.

The altered image replaced Navalny’s smiling face with that of Yevgeny Chichvarkin, a London-based Russian tycoon who left the country in 2009. Pro-Kremlin accounts on X, formerly Twitter, also claimed Navalnaya had been “activated” in the role of grieving widow.

Navalny’s mother, in video, pleads with Putin to release her son’s body

One of the sharpest blows against Navalny’s widow came from RT editor in chief Margarita Simonyan.

“Look, when a wife comes out two hours after the news of her husband’s death wearing makeup, look, the girls will understand, her mascara didn’t even run. It’s so hard to manage,” Simonyan told state television host Vladimir Solovyov on Sunday, two days after Navalny died.

“And smiling at a news conference. Well, for me, it shows that she didn’t love her husband very much. But she loved power and everything connected with it very much,” Simonyan added.

Solovyov, in his online program, Full Contact, accused Navalny of creating a “totalitarian sect” that had threatened Russia and said that his widow, too, would wind up in prison in Russia if she ever returned to her home country.

“She has already said enough and done enough to be sent to prison,” he warned.

Meanwhile, in the latest bellicose Russian rhetoric, Medvedev said on Thursday that Moscow could conquer Kyiv “if not now at some other time,” because it was controlled by “international bandits” led by the United States.

“This regime must fall,” he said, reiterating Moscow’s determination to topple the Ukrainian government. “It must be destroyed. It must not remain in this world.”

Natalia Abbakumova and Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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