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Blue Munich

Yulia Navalnaya
Yulia’s speech was a "Munich moment”—an iconic, historic speech that represents what the Munich Security Conference is all about. Photo: Didier Lebrun/Photonews/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
February 21, 2024

There were a lot of ghosts at this year’s Munich Security Conference. The proceedings opened with the news of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s death in a penal colony far above the Arctic Circle. His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, now widowed, was squeezed into a speaking slot right after Vice President Kamala Harris to address the notables gathered there: heads of state, defense departments, and foreign ministries; 47 spy chiefs; parliamentarians and four dozen members of the U.S. Congress; as well as diplomats, activists, journalists, think-tankers, and various hangers-on. Yulia’s speech astonished the conference. “How strong do you have to be?” mused Christoph Heusgen, Angela Merkel’s former national security adviser and now head of the M.S.C. “Your husband was just killed and you get up and kick Putin in the face?” 

Yulia’s speech, Heusgen said, “was a Munich moment”—an iconic, historic speech that represents what the Munich Security Conference is all about. We were drinking and watching the legendary foosball tournament that usually closes out the conference in a hot and sweaty room where young (and uniformed) attendees competed against ministers and the like. Heusgen told me he wanted people to leave the conference with a good impression, like they had had a good time, but that felt harder than ever this year.