Following the death of the main Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, questions remain over who will lead the future of the Russian opposition.

His widow, Yulia Navalnaya, who has normally avoided the spotlight and interviews, has already burst onto the scene and announced that she would continue Navalny’s fight.

“I will continue the work of Alexei Navalny,” he said in a video posted on social media. “And I ask you to be by my side. Not just to share the pain and endless pain that has engulfed us. I ask you to share the fury. The fury, the anger, the hatred towards those who have dared to destroy our future.”

He is already working to expand Navalny’s vision for Russia’s political future.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference a few hours after Moscow announced her husband’s death, Navalnaya mentioned that she had considered going to visit her children. However, she instead chose to comment on Navalny’s death and call on Russians to continue working against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alexei Navalny’s widow shares tribute as Russians arrested at protests

“I thought, what would Alexei do in my place? And I am sure he would be here, on this stage,” she stated. “I want to call on the entire global community, all the people of the world, to come together so that we can defeat this evil, defeat this horrible regime that is in power in Russia.”

Navalnaya has long played a central behind-the-scenes role for Navalny, advising him closely, according to Yevgenia Albats, a Russian journalist and friend of the late dissident, who fled Russia after facing persecution for her reporting on the war in Ukraine.

“She was always by his side,” Albats told The Daily Beast. “She was definitely her closest advisor and they discussed a lot together about her steps and responses and how she was going to present them.”

The speech shows a marked difference in how Navalnaya will likely be willing to approach the current political moment, Albats said, adding that she could be well positioned to unite Russians around a common cause: avenging Navalny’s death.

“Definitely when I heard it. She was thinking that this is the first time Yulia gives a political speech. It was not just the speech of a mourning widow. It was a political speech,” Albats, who is currently a researcher at Harvard Kennedy School, told The Daily Beast. “It became clear that she would put herself in her shoes.”

“She has a very powerful motive for leading the opposition because for her it is about revenge; For many of us now it’s about revenge. She definitely wants Putin and all those willful executioners who killed Navalny” to be held accountable.

A new world

The Kremlin is already reacting to Navalnaya’s attempt to throw its hat into the ring. Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov on Tuesday threatened Navalnaya with the same treatment Navalny received. “The same fate awaits Navalnaya,” he said. “If she comes to Russia, she will go to prison.”

While Navalnaya appears set to move forward with the Russian opposition movement, many in Russia recognize that Navalny can never be replaced and that his death leaves a huge void that the opposition movement must try to fill.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia Navalnaya, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other protesters march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia Navalnaya, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other protesters march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images

“In terms of replacing Navalny as leader, I think it’s kind of impossible,” Maxim Alyukov, a research associate at King’s College London Russia Institute, told The Daily Beast. “He was one of the most brilliant politicians in terms of devising alternative and innovative political strategies.”

Many opposition figures live abroad or in exile, although many lack widespread popularity like Navalny. Other allies of the dissident remain imprisoned, such as Ilya Yashin, who promised to continue Navalny’s fight.

Alexei Navalny sacrificed himself to show Russia that Putin is a monster

“As long as my heart beats in my chest, I will fight against tyranny. As long as I live, I will fear no evil,” Yashin said. “I understand my own risks. I am behind bars, my life is in Putin’s hands and it is in danger. But I will continue to maintain my line.”

Yashin’s path may be an uphill battle simply because he works from prison and may face harsh retaliation for speaking out against Putin, Albats warned.

“It is very difficult to become a leader while in prison. The kind of things Navalny did no one could and no one can,” Albats told The Daily Beast. “If he tries to make a different political statement out of prison, he will experience extremely harsh punishments from those criminals.”

Of course, the names of other anti-regime leaders remain in discussion, including Mikhail Khodorkovsky, an oligarch and prominent exiled opposition politician; Maxim Katz, a well-known YouTuber; or Leonid Volkov, strategist and colleague of Navalny. Volkov promised to continue Navalny’s work in a social media post.

“Of himself and everyone around him he demanded one thing: not to give up,” Volkov said. “This is what he wants from us now. “His life’s work must win.”

The future of the Russian opposition may be less centered on a central figure and more decentralized and unified, Alyukov said.

“I think it will necessarily be a more decentralized structure than, say, five years ago,” Alyukov said. “It is very difficult to find people who have these qualities and who are basically willing to die and become the center of attention, like Navalny, and then end up in prison and die. “Not everyone is willing to sacrifice.”

Khodorkovsky also predicted a greater collective effort among opposition leaders in the future.

“Our reaction to his assassination must be to join forces, continue their work together and ensure that the hope of a democratic Russia does not die with him.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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By Sam