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Yulia Navalnaya, widow of Alexei Navalny, steps forward to lead the Russian opposition – 3 points to understand

Farida Jalalzai, Virginia Tech, The Conversation on

Published in News & Features

Alexei Navalny, one of Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s biggest critics and the country’s de facto opposition leader, died under suspicious circumstances in an Arctic prison on Feb. 16, 2024.

Hours after his death was announced, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, appeared in a video on social media and said, “I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia.”.

Navalnaya, who lives outside of Russia, accused Putin of killing her husband and also promised to “continue the work of Alexei Navalny.”

Since her husband’s death, Navalyana, who was generally not prominently involved in politics before, has shown other signs of stepping into politics. She is lobbying the European Union to enact new sanctions against Putin, for example. Navalnaya and her daughter also met with President Joe Biden, to whom she reiterated her desire to keep up her husband’s fight against Putin.

My research examining female leaders worldwide recognizes family connections as an important pathway to power.

Navalnaya’s story fits squarely within a larger pattern of other female political leaders and activists who become publicly prominent after their husbands die or are imprisoned for their opposition to an authoritarian regime.


Here are three points to understand about Navalnaya’s sudden rise in politics, and the obstacles she faces in accomplishing her goal of bringing democratic change to Russia.

Widowhood was the main route American women took to becoming a member of Congress for decades, when they assumed their husbands’ seats, from the 1920s through the 1960s.

While men also often benefit from being born into political families, women disproportionately rely on their marital connections and other family linkages – such as being daughters of powerful men – to gain a foothold in politics.

Women also often ascend in the political arena under tragic circumstances.


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