The latest controversy to befall Elon Musk's embattled Twitter/𝕏 came this week when the wife of late Russian political activist Alexei Navalny was briefly banned from the platform.

Following the death of her husband at a penal colony in the Artic Circle nicknamed 'Polar Wolf', Yulia Navalnaya opened an account to continue his work opposing the man she blames for his death: Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In a statement the company blamed a system error for the block on the account, which had garnered 100,000 followers in a matter of hours.

Not usually outspoken, Ms Navalnaya had used the account to post an emotional video in which she accused Russian authorities of murdering her husband with the nerve agent Novichok and delaying an autopsy to make it undetectable. The Kremlin denies this.

With a sudden void in internal opposition to Putin, it appears Navalny's widow is ready to step up - but who is she, and where does she go from here?

A young man named Alexei

The Herald: Russian protest leader Alexei Navalny speaks with his wife Yulia during a break at the hearing of his case in a court in the provincial northern city of KirovRussian protest leader Alexei Navalny speaks with his wife Yulia during a break at the hearing of his case in a court in the provincial northern city of Kirov (Image: Vasily Maximov/AFP)

Born in Moscow in 1976 to a scientist father and a mother who worked for the Ministry of Light Industry - which produced consumer goods for Soviet citizens - as Yulia Abrosimova, her parents divorced in her childhood.

Her father, Boris Abrosimov, passed away in 1996 though even this has been disputed. In 2020 the journalist Oleg Kashin alleged that Mr Abrosimov was alive and well and was in fact a man of the same name working at the Russian embassy in Britain with ties to the KGB.

In response Navalny posted the death certificate of his wife's father online, stating: "I've never been to London and couldn't do, so how could an ordinary Soviet citizen?".

Ms Navalnaya graduated from Faculty the of International Economic Relations of the Plekhanov University of Economics and met her husband while on holiday in Turkey in 1998.

There was little to indicate the man she'd met would become internationally renowned. Navalny was born in a tiny military hamlet called Butyn in Moscow oblast, buried deep in the forest and not even accessible by public transport.

His father, Anatoly, was based in the hamlet during his military service and the family left when Alexei was six, with the family later running a co-operative wicker weaving factory - they founded a private business in 1994 following the fall of communism.

"I didn't marry an up-and-coming lawyer or opposition leader," Ms Navalnaya said. "I was marrying a young man named Alexei."

Read More: Are we really facing conscription into national service to fight a war with Russia?

Rise of Navalny

While Navalny is now famous around the world as an anti-corruption advocate, his political beginnings are not quite so straightforward or, indeed, palatable.

Though his first official involvement in politics came as part of the centre-left Yabloko party, he left the group in 2007 to form NAROD, both the Russian word for 'people' and an acronym for the National Russian Liberation Movement.

Navalny promoted the movement with a series of videos. One was a frankly rather camp pro-gun message and another was entitled "become a nationalist!".

In the latter, the late opposition figure appears as a dentist and likens ethnic tensions in Russia to cavities in a patient, arguing that the rise of fascism can only be prevented by deporting migrants and declaring: "We have a right to be Russians in Russia. And we will defend this right".

The former depicts cockroaches and flies being swatted by Navalny, who describes himself as a "certified nationalist", interspersed with images of what appear to be bearded Muslim men with the caption 'homosapiens bezpredelius' or 'borderless man'.

Those videos were never disavowed, though the campaigner did apologise for having described Georgian people as "rodents" in a 2008 blog post in which he called for them to be expelled from Russia.

Navalny has participated in the Russian March, a kind of Unite The Right for the country, and endorsed a campaign called Stop Feeding the Caucuses which called for the end of federal subsidies to regions such as Chechnya.

On the question of Ukraine too his positions have been difficult to nail down - he opposed both the 2022 invasion and the annexation of Crimea, but stated that the transfer of the peninsula to the Ukrainian SSR from the Russian one by Nikita Kruschev was "voluntaristic, unfair and illegal" and refused to say if he would return it to Ukraine were he to become president of Russia.

It was only last year that Navalny made clear his belief that the borders of the besieged nation should be those "internationally recognised and defined in 1991".

Enemy of the state

The Herald: Alexei Navalny

While some of Navalny's past words and actions make for uncomfortable reading, it's indisputable that he has also become the world's most vocal and recognisable critic of the Kremlin.

He aimed to make transparent the assets of oil and gas giants Rosneft, Gazprom, Gazprom Neft, Lukoil, and Surgutneftegas; published papers alleging corrupt practices in a real estate deal between Russia and Hungary; and accused high-ranking members of the government and armed forces of embezzling money.

In Putin's Russia that's a dangerous game.

In 2013 he was charged with conspiring to steal timber from a state-owned company and convicted, though after various appeals he was given only a suspended sentence. He appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after being placed under house arrest during an investigation into the family weaving business, with the court finding in his favour.

It was, of course, not just through the courts that Putin pursued Navalny.

Read More: Why the dithering West is rightly worried as Vladimir Putin grows in confidence

If there's one thing that unites critics of Mr Putin, it's that they have an unfortunate habit of dying untimely deaths. Alexander Litvinenko, who defected from the Russian security services and dubbed the regime a "mafia state" was murdered with polonium in London in 2006, double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury in 2018.

The list goes on: Pavel Antov (fell out of a window), Boris Nemtsov (shot while walking in Moscow), Anna Politkovskaya (shot outside her apartment) are on it, as is  Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner Group leader who briefly attempted a coup in 2023 then died months later in a mysterious plane explosion.

Navalny was travelling on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow on 20 August 2020 when he fell ill, the plane making an emergency landing as he fell into a coma.

A private plane was sent from Germany to evacuate him, with doctors announcing he had been poisoned with Novichok.

On September 7 Navalny was brought out of his coma, and noted in a post on Instagram that he'd missed his 20th wedding anniversary with Yulia but that he'd dreamed of her presence.

He wrote: "I now know for sure just from my own experience: love heals and brings back to life. Yulia, you saved me, and let it be written in neurobiology textbooks."

Polar Wolf

The Herald: Russia Navalny

Despite his brush with death, Navalny returned to Russia and was promptly designated an extremist and sentenced to 19 years in a penal colony.

On December 25 of last year it was revealed he had been moved to IK3 or 'Polar Wolf', a former Soviet gulag near the arctic circle.

Temperatures can drop to -20 in the winter, while the hot summer months bring swarms of mosquitoes and days on which the sun never sets.

Allowed access to the internet, Navalny wrote of being incarcerated alongside someone with severe mental health problems who "yells for 14 hours during the day and three hours at night", the only view from his cell window a tall fence.

A cause of death has not yet been established, but even without foul play there are an estimated 1,400-2,000 prison deaths in Russia per year, with cardiac problems the number one cause.

When the death of her husband was first reported Ms Navalnaya said: "If it is true, then I would like Putin, his staff, his friends, his government, to know that they will be punished for what they’ve done with our country, my family and my husband. They will be brought to justice, and that day will come very soon."

The future

The Herald: Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny hugs his wife Yulia in the courtroom in Kirov on July 19, 2013Russia's top opposition leader Alexei Navalny hugs his wife Yulia in the courtroom in Kirov on July 19, 2013 (Image: Evgeny Feldman/AFP)

Ms Navalnaya has vowed to continue her husband's work, though what that entails is not yet clear.

Mr Putin will contest an election later this year which he is certain to win - Nikolay Kharitonov, the leader of the Communist Party who form the nominal opposition has stated he will not criticise the president during the cycle and is viewed as a weak candidate by many in his own movement.

With the war in Ukraine stuck in a bloody attrition and European and American politicians growing uneasy over funding, he may well win concessions over the Donbas too.

Ms Navalnaya is painfully aware of the risks of challenging him, but seems determined to avenge "a young man called Alexei".