Prime Minister Christopher Luxon 'saddened' by death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Christopher Luxo expressed his sadness over the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Christopher Luxo expressed his sadness over the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Photo credit: Getty Images

Story by RNZ

The prime minister says he is saddened by news of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death.

Navalny, an outspoken critic of Russia's President Vladminir Putin, has been in various Russian jails since 2021 on charges widely viewed as politically motivated.

The prison service in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets district where Navalny was being held announced he had died early on Saturday morning (NZ time) after feeling unwell when he returned from a walk.

On the social media platform X, Christopher Luxon said Navalny was "a fierce advocate of freedom and anti-corruption".

"New Zealand has had longstanding concerns over Russia's repression of political opposition and declining freedom of expression," Luxon said.

"Both are critical elements of liberal democracies."

Minister for Foreign Affairs Winston Peters said on X Navalny had "fought for change in Russia".

"He championed freedom and democracy, and combated corruption.

"We are deeply saddened by reports of his untimely death."

Peters said his thoughts were with Navalny's family and loved ones.

Meanwhile, an international relations expert hopes the death of Navalny will spur New Zealand to do more to support Ukraine in their war with Russia.

Otago University professor Robert Patman said while New Zealand has given humanitarian aid and some military assistance to Ukraine, other Western allies had done more.

"We haven't matched the sort of support that Australia and Canada have been giving to Ukraine, and make no mistake about it, a non-nuclear, liberal democracy like New Zealand has a huge stake in making sure that a non-nuclear liberal democracy in Ukraine does not succumb to an illegal invasion from an authoritarian neighbour," he said.

Patman said there had been concern about "Western battle fatigue" in supporting Ukraine but Navalny's death would have "significant consequences" for the war.

"I think the shock of Navalny's death will possibly spur the Europeans, and possibly put pressure on domestic supporters of Mr Putin in the Republican Party of the United States to back down."

He was not entirely surprised by reports of Navalny's death in Russian custody.

"It was always possible because Alexei Navalny was a major opposition leader to Vladimir Putin, who has always been very insecure around Navalny," he said.

Strong reaction worldwide

There has been widespread condemnation of Navalny's death from around the world.

US President Joe Biden has laid the blame at the feet of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and other US politicians have also criticised Putin.

The United Nations secretary-general has expressed shock and called for an immediate investigation.

In the UK the government has "summoned the Russian embassy" to make it clear that they "hold the Russian authorities fully responsible" for Navalny's death, the BBC is reporting.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that in Russia "free spirits are sent to the Gulag and condemned to death" as he shared his "anger and indignation" in a post on X.

Despite the Russian authorities warning against protests, hundreds of people have begun leaving flowers in central Moscow in memory of the Kremlin critic while vigils are taking place across European cities, the BBC says.