Aleksei Navalny’s Wife Makes Dramatic Appearance After Reports of His Death

Just hours after her husband was reported dead, Yulia Navalnaya made a dramatic, surprise appearance at a gathering of world leaders in Munich on Friday. Taking the stage, she denounced President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and vowed that he and his circle “will be brought to justice.”

The diplomats and political leaders at the Munich Security Conference were already reeling from reports that her husband, Aleksei A. Navalny, the Russian dissident, had died in prison under suspicious circumstances when Ms. Navalny stunned the hall by striding in. Conference organizers quickly wrapped up a session with Vice President Kamala Harris and turned the microphone over to Ms. Navalnaya.

“We cannot believe Putin and his government,” Ms. Navalnaya told the audience. “They are lying constantly. But if it’s true, I would like Putin and all his staff, everybody around him, his government, his friends, I want them to know that they will be punished for what they have done with our country, with my family and with my husband. They will be brought to justice, and this day will come soon.”

Ms. Navalnaya spoke clearly and calmly, with remarkable composure, her face etched with evident pain but under complete control. Standing at the lectern, she clasped her hands in front of her and stared straight ahead as if willing herself to focus on her message.

The audience was captivated and gave her an emotional standing ovation when she finished.

In the annals of international meetings, it would be hard to remember a more riveting moment, when the careful scripts of government leaders laden with diplomatic jargon fall to the wayside as life-and-death questions play out so intensely in front of them.

The conference was already focused on security threats from Russia, and Friday’s news added new urgency to the gathering.

Ms. Navalnaya had come to Munich along with Leonid Volkov, her husband’s longtime chief of staff, to keep world leaders focused on her husband’s case and the clampdown on dissent by Mr. Putin’s government. She met on Thursday evening with conference attendees, who described conversations hoping for better days ahead.

Ms. Harris addressed the reports of Mr. Navalny’s death at the beginning of her speech to the conference, extending her sympathy to Ms. Navalnaya and saying that Washington was still gathering information. “If confirmed,” Ms. Harris said, “this would be a further sign of Putin’s brutality. Whatever story they tell, let us be clear: Russia is responsible, and we’ll have more to say on this later.”

Over the years, through Mr. Navalny’s near death from poisoning and his long prison sentences, many Russians hoped that Ms. Navalnaya might step in to become an alternative leading figure in the opposition. She has always demurred.

While fiercely outspoken in defense of her husband and critical of the many forms of oppression that he faced, she has never ventured directly into opposition politics — and rarely if ever took to a podium as she did in Munich.

During Mr. Navalny’s time in Germany, where he was treated after a poisoning in 2020, she remained private, posting only occasional photos of the two of them together during his treatment and recovery, but never speaking publicly.

She became familiar to millions around the world last year, however, when she appeared at the Academy Awards ceremony, where the documentary “Navalny” won an Oscar. In an interview afterward with Der Spiegel, the German news outlet, she expressed worry for her husband’s health in prison and lamented that she might never get to see him in person again.

“We all understand that it is Putin personally who is keeping Aleksei in prison,” she said then, “and as long as he stays in power, it is hard to imagine that Aleksei will be released.”

Mr. Navalny had continued to post on social media from prison by passing messages to his visiting lawyers. His most recent Instagram post was on Wednesday — Valentine’s Day — and it was a message to Yulia: We may be separated by “blue blizzards and thousands of kilometers,” he wrote, “but I feel that you are near me every second, and I keep loving you even more.”

Anton Troianovski and Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.

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