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A mysterious blood clot, the missing body, and murderous Western spies: The Russian state continues to lie about Navalny’s death

Starting almost immediately after the death of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a penal colony in the Russian Far North, Russian government agencies and Kremlin-controlled media began issuing implausible, contradictory speculation as to how Vladimir Putin’s chief political rival could have possibly met his demise in a remote facility administered by Vladimir Putin’s oppressive state apparatus. As an exercise in understanding just how disorienting the Kremlin’s firehose of falsehoods can be, The Insider sums up the most blatantly false “versions” of Navalny’s death that were offered to the Russian public.

  • Time of death

  • A detached blood clot

  • The missing body

  • Why Navalny's mother has been denied access to her son's body

  • “Assassination by Western intelligence services”

  • P.S. “The world's fastest ambulance”: verified as accurate


Time of death

The first word about Navalny’s death came from a brief bulletin published on the official website of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) on February 16 at 2:19 p.m. Moscow time. A brief TASS state news report published two minutes later cited the website:

“‘On Feb. 16, 2024, in the IK-3 correctional colony, convict A. Navalny felt ill after a walk, losing consciousness almost immediately. The medical staff of the institution arrived quickly, and an ambulance crew was called. All necessary resuscitative measures were taken, which did not yield positive results. Emergency physicians declared the death of the convict. The cause of death is being established.”

An update to the TASS story clarifies:

“The news item has been edited (2:32 p.m. Moscow time). The date in the quote has been verified. The correct date is Feb. 16.”

Due to the short period between the release of the original version and the edit, the Internet Archive did not preserve the original version, so the date given in the first version that went out to the public remains unknown. But a report by Novaya Europe offers a clue as to what happened:

“It inevitably became even more difficult than usual to contact anybody at IK-3 without the mediation of the Federal Penitentiary Service following the announcement of Alexei Navalny’s death on Friday. Nonetheless, Novaya Europe managed to get in touch with one inmate who said that a ‘mysterious commotion’ had broken out in the penal colony the previous evening.
‘It all started when they really sped up our evening search. This usually happens on holidays when the guards are in a hurry to go and celebrate, but yesterday wasn’t a holiday. Then they locked us up, forbade any movement between barracks, and tightened security. We heard cars drive onto the prison grounds late at night but couldn’t see through our cell windows what they were,’ the inmate told Novaya Europe.
He said that guards conducted an in-depth search of the prisoners’ cells first thing the next morning, seizing phones, decks of cards, and even coil heaters which they had previously turned a blind eye to. The guards made it sound like there was an outside inspection coming up.
‘Usually both the administration and the inmates find out about such inspections about a month in advance and prepare for them because neither the guards nor the prisoners want the inspectors to find any violations. And so we were expecting an inspection out of the blue! Something must have happened.’”

The pro-Kremlin Telegram channel Baza reported almost in sync with TASS: “RT reports, citing channel sources, that Alexei Navalny had a detached blood clot. According to Baza’s information, Navalny felt ill today at around 1 p.m. local time (that is, 11 a.m. Moscow time). An ambulance was called. The paramedics tried to resuscitate Alexei, but he died at 2:17 p.m.”

This account would sound plausible if Navalny himself hadn't relayed a message that appeared on Twitter on Jan. 9: “In SHIZO [ed. a punishment-isolation regime Navalny was subject to at the time of his death], the walk is at 6:30 in the morning. But I’ve promised myself to go outside in any weather. You can see my courtyard in this photo: 11 steps from the wall, three more to another wall – not much of a walk, but some exercise is always good, so I make sure to come out.”

On February 14, Navalny reported having received another 15 days of SHIZO, meaning that either the daily routine in the SHIZO changed in the last month, or else Baza's source claiming that Navalny died following an afternoon walk is lying.

A detached blood clot

In the first minutes after the official announcement of Navalny's death, RT and Baza named a detached blood clot as the cause of death. RT cited an unnamed source.

Medical professionals immediately had questions about the diagnosis. ER doctor Alexander Polupan, who was part of the team that resuscitated Navalny in Omsk after he was poisoned in August 2020, told The Insider:

“They couldn’t have named this diagnosis as the cause of his death. They could only have diagnosed him with ‘sudden cardiac arrest’ and listed its possible causes without jumping to conclusions. A detached blood clot is a lay term; the proper medical term is pulmonary embolism. Diagnosing it would have required lifetime imaging, which was never done, as far as we know, because there was no equipment onsite, or the results of an autopsy. At the moment, the cause of death has not been confirmed and is therefore ineligible.
“Pulmonary embolism has a specific clinical presentation that may make this diagnosis likely. But considering that the ambulance crew was called in after the cardiac arrest, the clinical picture would not have been different from a heart attack, for instance, or the effect of exposure to a poisonous substance.
“If thromboembolism is suspected, the first step of the examination protocol is transthoracic echocardiography. It helps detect cardiac overload, which can then be verified by pulmonary angiography. It is unequivocal that they had no opportunity to do either. Therefore, such a diagnosis is nothing but a wild guess. Propaganda came up with this version surprisingly soon.”

According to Anna Karetnikova, a human rights activist and former FSIN employee, pulmonary embolism is “a diagnosis prison doctors use to explain absolutely anything.”

As Polupan also pointed out to Novaya Gazeta, “Anyone can have a detached blood clot, and thromboembolism can happen in anyone. But Navalny did not have any predisposing conditions that may cause thromboembolism when I examined him [in 2020 in Omsk].”

The missing body

The administration of IK-3, the penal colony where Navalny died, said that his body had been moved to the nearby town of Salekhard “for examination” at the request of Russia’s Investigative Committee. Shortly thereafter, updates from Navalny's associates appeared on Twitter:

“Alexei’s mother and lawyer have arrived at the Salekhard morgue. It is closed, despite the penal colony's reassurances that it is open and that Navalny's body is inside. His lawyer called the number indicated on the door and was told he was the seventh to call since morning,” Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh wrote.
“The colony administration has deceived us. They told us his body was in the Salekhard morgue. The morgue says they don’t have him,” reported Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation.

For some time, the whereabouts of Navalny’s body remained unknown, with prison officials saying it had been transported to Salekhard’s only morgue and both the morgue and the local forensics bureau denying that the body was in their possession. However, the independent publication Mediazona studied the footage from road cameras at the ice crossing on the Ob River between Labytnangi and Salekhard (the only route from Kharp to Salekhard) and noticed a convoy of four vehicles: a regular car, two police cars, and a gray UAZ minibus belonging to the Federal Penitentiary Service.

According to Mediazona, the UAZ was likely transporting Navalny's body. The cars were captured on camera on the evening of Feb. 16, which means that the morgue staff lied about not having Navalny’s body on the 17th.

Why Navalny's mother has been denied access to her son's body

Even after the authorities admitted that Navalny's body was in the Salekhard morgue, the mother of the deceased was not allowed access. On Feb. 17, the Investigative Committee announced the body would not be released until the cause of death was reliably determined. Yarmysh commented on the committee's statement: “Just an hour ago, the lawyers were told that the examination had been completed and that no signs of a crime had been detected. They keep lying to us, giving us the runaround, covering up their tracks.”

Two days later, it was announced that the investigation would continue for at least two more weeks. According to the website of Russia’s Federation of Forensic Experts, a forensic chemical examination can establish:

  • The presence of various substances in the victim's blood and tissues.
  • Their concentration. Whether the dose was lethal and whether the amount of the substance matches the observed consequences.
  • Whether the detected substances could have caused intoxication or death.
  • The presence of bad habits in the victim.
  • The presence of traces of explosives.

The Investigative Committee did not justify the need for a chemical examination in Navalny's case. No one in the committee or the penitentiary service named poisoning as a possible cause of death. It also remains unclear what kind of chemical tests would require as many as 14 days to complete. Finally, it is impossible to understand why Lyudmila Navalnaya cannot be allowed to see her son's body — at least to identify him. It wouldn't interfere with the examination in any way.

“Assassination by Western intelligence services”

The Telegram channel of chief Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov forwarded to its readers a highly questionable text written by another “author.”

The post in question, which first appeared on the Karnaukhov Telegram channel spread a conspiracy theory arguing that Navalny had been assassinated by agents of the West because Western leaders needed a cause in order “to unite against Russia in a decisive battle.” As if the initial claim were not persuasive enough, the channel offered readers a few other possible “motives” to choose from, such as the need to distract the global community from Ukraine’s military failure in Avdiivka, and to thwart the supposed positive PR momentum Putin had gained after his interview with Tucker Carlson. The channel also noted the response of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who spoke at the Munich Security Conference after the news of her husband’s death became public. According to Karnaukhov, the timing was suspicious given that the conference was an event “which she had no business attending in the first place.”

Notably, the author of the above theory does not even pretend to offer up a possible explanation as to how Western special services might have infiltrated a maximum-security prison in the Russian Far North and killed an inmate without leaving behind the slightest trace of physical evidence. However, this plot hole does nothing to shake their conviction that Navalny’s murder was somehow the work of the evil West.

Curiously enough, not even these “patriotic” thinkers seem to believe the official claims of death by natural causes.

P.S. “The world's fastest ambulance”: verified as accurate

Finally, there is one example of a stated claim that may be more plausible than it first appeared. On the day of Navalny's death, the Kremlin-controlled Interfax media outlet reported that the ambulance called to resuscitate Navalny had reached the penal colony within seven minutes. That article cited employees of the Labytnangi Town Hospital, which is located 35 kilometers (almost 22 miles) away from IK-3. This raised questions. To cover such a distance in seven minutes, the ambulance van would have had to travel at an average speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph).

However, this discrepancy was later clarified: the ambulance had been dispatched from the Kharp branch of the Labytnangi hospital, which is less than one kilometer away from the penal colony. The Kharp hospital page on the Vkontakte social network states that the healthcare institution did indeed become a branch of the Labytnangi Town Hospital in 2023, thus making the offered explanation plausible.

This does not mean, of course, that the guards at IK-3 called an ambulance for Navalny the moment he lost consciousness, nor that the ambulance indeed arrived within seven minutes. But it does mean that no one was actually suggesting that a Russian ambulance had successfully traversed long stretches of arctic road at the speed of a Ferrari.

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