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Navalny death is a pre-election gambit from Putin, anti-Kremlin activist Bill Browder says

Anti-Kremlin activist Bill Browder said he believes Alexei Navalny’s death was intended as a message to political opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of elections next month.

Dissident Navalny, who died Friday, had been serving a 19-year prison sentence on charges of extremism in Russia, which he vehemently denied.

World leaders reacted with dismay and suspicion to the death, with U.S. President Joe Biden saying “Putin is responsible.” Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday said the West’s reaction to Navalny’s death was “self-exposing,” given that no forensic medical examination had been made available at the time.

Browder, the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital Management and a friend of Navalny, also accused the Russian leader of being behind the death.

“Well this is happening before the presidential election and I should use that word lightly, they don’t do elections in Russia, it’s the fake election. But Putin has to create the sense of legitimacy and the last thing he wants to do is to have Alexei Navalny saying things from prison that gets people to not support Putin,” he told CNBC’s Silvia Amaro Saturday at the Munich Security Conference.

William Browder, co-founder and chief executive officer of Hermitage Capital LLP, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., July 27, 2017. 
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

“And so I think this is a pre-election gambit that Putin is taking, kill his main opponent and send a message to everyone else that if you get involved with opposition politics you die, that’s the message.”

The prison service said the cause of Navalny’s death was still to be established, and the Kremlin pledged to investigate his death.

A spokesperson for Russia’s foreign ministry wasn’t immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

A spokesperson for Navalny confirmed his death on Saturday after Russian media reported that he had died on Friday, citing the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region where he was imprisoned.

Navalny — one of Putin’s most vocal critics — was poisoned in August 2020 but survived. The Kremlin denied any involvement in his poisoning.

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