Alexei Navalny’s widow invited as Biden’s guest to State of the Union

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden invited Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, to be their guest at Thursday’s State of the Union address, the White House has said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Tuesday told reporters the invitation had been extended to Ms Navalnaya, but said the Russian opposition figure will not be in First Lady Jill Biden’s box above the House floor when Mr Biden addresses Congress on Thursday.

“I can confirm that she was indeed invited to the State of the Union. She is no longer able to attend,” said Ms Jean-Pierre, who referred further questions to Ms Navalnaya’s representatives.

Mr Navalny’s funeral took place on Friday in Moscow, with thousands of people paying their respects under a large police presence. The opposition leader died under unclear circumstances at a penal colony in the Arctic Circle more than two weeks ago. The date of his death has been reported as 16 February.

Many have blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for his death. Mr Navalny, a 47-year-old attorney, was poisoned on a flight in 2020 with a substance traditionally used by the Russian security services.

He almost died, but recovered after receiving treatment in Germany, where Ms Navalnaya now lives in exile. The couple chose to return to Russia despite the overwhelming likelihood that Mr Navalny would be detained and that his life would likely be at risk.

Ms Navalnaya was unable to attend her husband’s funeral. She has said that she’ll continue her late husband’s work, thanking him for more than a quarter-century of “absolute happiness”.

On Instagram, she wrote: “I don’t know how to live without you, but I will try to do it in a way that you up there are proud of me and happy for me.”

Ms Navalnaya’s promise to pick up her husband’s work comes after years of avoiding the spotlight.

She is taking on a daunting task, and it remains unclear if she, in cooperation with her husband’s followers and other opposition groups, can seriously challenge the rule of Mr Putin, who’s set to be re-elected once again in March to another six-year term. He became acting president on the last day of 1999 and has ruled his country ever since, either as president or, for a four-year period between 2008 and 2012, as prime minister, when one of his key allies was installed as president to accommodate the then rules on term limits.

Russia is classified as “not free” by the non-profit Freedom House, which states that “power in Russia’s authoritarian political system is concentrated in the hands of President Vladimir Putin. With loyalist security forces, a subservient judiciary, a controlled media environment, and a legislature consisting of a ruling party and pliable opposition factions, the Kremlin manipulates elections and suppresses genuine dissent”.

While Ms Navalnaya has accused Mr Putin of killing her husband, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the claim “unfounded” as well as “insolent”.

“By killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul,” she said after his death. “But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up.”

At a meeting of the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council last month, she told leaders not to recognize the results of the Russian election in March and to place sanctions on more of Mr Putin’s close allies. She also urged them to do more to help Russians who have fled the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report