Ukraine Update: Thousands defy Putin to attend Navalny’s funeral

Vladimir Putin was right to be afraid of Alexei Navalny. Even after the Russian dictator almost certainly had the anti-corruption activist murdered in an Arctic prison camp, thousands turned up at a makeshift memorial shortly after his death. Many of those who came were beaten and carried away by Russian police.

Still, thousands—possibly tens of thousands—have gathered in Moscow for Navalny’s funeral on Friday, in defiance of Putin and overt threats from security forces.

The hearse carrying Navalny’s body was temporarily held at the entrance of Borisovskoye Cemetery before multiple busloads of riot police hurried the coffin into a church for a brief service. Then it was taken to a grave as thousands of mourners tried to enter the cemetery. Many were held back by barriers or lines of police, but thousands more gathered in the area outside the cemetery to form a makeshift memorial. Crowds there chanted, “Don’t be afraid!” and “Don’t give up!” 

With access to the cemetery limited, the protests outside may have been even larger. And the courage that mourners displayed is tremendous, especially in light of the highly visible abuse that they have faced over the past week.

Ukrainian Pravda also reports that some of those in attendance chanted, “No to war!” and “Ukrainians are good people!” while demanding that Russian forces be brought home.

It would be wonderful to think that the tragedy of Navalny’s death might be redeemed by an anti-war movement that would save thousands of lives, but at this point, there is little to indicate this is a threat of the scale that might get Putin’s attention, much less force him to change his mind about the illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian military has made a point of doing its primary recruiting among ethnic minorities in rural areas, leaving regions around Moscow and St. Petersburg lightly touched. Even with hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers dead, and hundreds of thousands more away at the front, keeping the pressure on wealthier, urban areas low has helped reduce the threat of organized protests—especially when police continue to meet even small-scale protests with brutal force.

But this would certainly be an excellent time for feelings in Russia to turn. On the ground in Ukraine, the shortage of ammunition among Ukrainian troops is being dearly felt.

The pocket of Ukrainian control that existed around Avdiivka since the start of the war has now vanished. Villages to the north and west that had previously resisted all Russian assaults are now falling.

As the open-source intelligence group Frontelligence Insight reports, Russia has continued to advance after taking Avdiivka, moving through the much smaller towns of Sjeverne, Lastochkyne, and Stepove. Russians have also made a breakthrough near Marinka, leaving other areas along the long-held defensive line near the Russian-controlled city of Donetsk in danger.


Russia is not advancing without taking losses, but a shortage of ammunition not only played a major role in Ukraine’s eventual retreat from Avdiivka, it also means Russia can now advance without taking the kind of enormous losses it did over the last four months.

The only possible solution is to get additional arms to Ukraine. Quickly.

With Ukraine aid still being blocked by Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, the Biden administration and Pentagon are working on a plan to expedite emergency assistance to Ukraine. According to The New York Times, this plan would involve tapping into President Joe Biden’s remaining authority to draw down around $4 billion worth of weapons and provide them to Ukraine. The problem is that the funds to replace those weapons for U.S. forces have been exhausted.

If Biden takes this step, it will mean removing weapons from the U.S. arsenal and sending them to Ukraine, with no guarantee those weapons will soon be replaced. However, the need for weapons, particularly 155 mm artillery shells, is clearly much greater in Ukraine at the moment than it is in America. Taking this step is much more of a political risk—allowing Republicans to claim that Biden is damaging America’s military readiness just months before the election—than it is a military risk to the nation.

Considering Congress’ perpetual habit of giving the Pentagon billions more than it requested, it’s hard to believe that this gap would stay open very long.

However, even if Biden does take this action, it would provide only a fraction of what Ukraine needs to protect itself and continue the fight through 2024. Passing the Ukraine assistance bill remains critical. 

To that end, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries put a deal on the table this week that might finally get things moving. Speaking to The New York Times, Jefferies suggested that Democrats in the House would shield Johnson from an attempt to remove him as speaker if Johnson would allow the Ukraine bill to come to the floor.

So far, this offer doesn’t seem to have removed the deadly roadblock that is holding up a vote … but at least it seems possible.

Now that Russia has the coking plant at Avdiivka, Ukraine is helping them keep it warm.

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