Biden 'contemplating' steps to punish Moscow as world leaders blame 'monster' Putin for Navalny's death

By Isaac M February 17, 2024

US President Joe Biden has said he is “contemplating” steps to punish Moscow after he blamed Vladimir Putin and his “thugs” for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Mr Biden said he was “outraged” but “not surprised” by the death of the prominent Putin critic as he joined other world leaders in saying the Kremlin should be held accountable.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described Mr Navalny as the “fiercest advocate for Russian democracy”, while Canadian leader Justin Trudeau said his passing is a reminder of “exactly what a monster Putin is”.

Mr Navalny had been serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges in Russia’s Polar Wolf penal colony north of the Arctic Circle.

Russian prison authorities said he died after feeling unwell following a walk on Friday.

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‘Putin is responsible’

Speaking at the White House after the reports emerged, Mr Biden paid tribute to a man he said “bravely” stood up to the Russian president’s “corruption” and “violence”.

Mr Biden continued: “Russian authorities are going to tell their own story.

“But make no mistake. Make no mistake. Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.”

He added: “We don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Nalvany was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did.”

Joe Biden speaks after it was reported Alexei Navalny had died. Pic: Reuters
Joe Biden speaks after it was reported Alexei Navalny had died. Pic: Reuters

The White House is still seeking more information about Mr Navalny’s death, but the development has put a further chill into already frosty relations between Washington DC and Moscow.

Mr Biden had warned Mr Putin after they met in Geneva in June 2021 that Mr Navalny’s death would lead to devastating consequences for the Kremlin.

Asked what consequences Mr Putin will face, Mr Biden said at the White House on Friday: “That was three years ago, in the meantime they have faced a hell of a lot of consequences.”

He referenced sanctions Moscow has faced since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers who have been killed in the conflict.

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Alexei Navalny makes a heart gesture standing in a cage during a hearing in Moscow in 2021 
Pic: AP
Alexei Navalny makes a heart gesture to his wife during a court hearing in Moscow in 2021. Pic: AP

Mr Biden said he is “contemplating what else could be done”, but added that when he issued the warning in 2021 there were no sanctions already in place.

The US president also urged Republican hardliners in Congress to support additional funding to pay for more weaponry for Ukraine’s military nearly two years after the country was invaded by Russian forces.

He said: “History’s watching the House of Representatives. The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will never be forgotten.”

The Russian president himself has not commented on Mr Navalny’s death, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin had been made aware of the development.

Mr Peskov, who said he could not reveal any details as to how Mr Navalny died, added that the reaction of Western leaders has been “unacceptable” and “absolutely rabid”.

Mr Putin chairs a meeting in Chelyabinsk on the day Mr Navalny's death was reported. Pic: Reuters
Mr Putin chairs a meeting in Chelyabinsk on the day Mr Navalny’s death was reported. Pic: Reuters

Sunak, Macron and Scholz respond to ‘huge tragedy’

Among those world leaders was Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said the jailed dissident’s death was “terrible news”.

“My thoughts are with his wife and the people of Russia, for whom this is a huge tragedy,” Mr Sunak said.

“As the fiercest advocate for Russian democracy, Alexei Navalny demonstrated incredible courage throughout his life,” he added.

Lord Cameron, the UK’s foreign secretary, said that Mr Navanly had “fought bravely against corruption” throughout his life.

He continued: “Putin’s Russia fabricated charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to an Arctic penal colony and now he has tragically died.

“Putin should be accountable for what has happened – no one should doubt the dreadful nature of his regime.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was “obvious” Mr Putin was responsible, adding that the Russian leader doesn’t care who dies so long as his position is secure.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “anger and indignation” over Mr Navalny’s death, adding that Russia is a place where “free spirits are put in the gulag and sentenced to death”.

He said the treatment of Mr Navalny shows the “weakness of the Kremlin and their fear of all opponents”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Mr Navalny’s death makes clear “what kind of regime this is” and that he had “probably now paid for (his) courage with his life”.

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The life and death of Alexei Navalny

EU says it will ‘spare no efforts’ to hold Kremlin to account

The European Union demanded Moscow immediately release all political prisoners after the death of Mr Navalny.

The Russian opposition leader was “slowly murdered” by Mr Putin, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and vice president Josep Borrell said in a joint statement.

“We will spare no efforts to hold the Russian political leadership and authorities to account,” they added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the country’s CBC Radio that Mr Navalny was a “strong fighter for democracy, for freedoms for the Russian people”.

He added: “It really shows the extent to which Putin… will crack down on anyone who is fighting for freedom for the Russian people… It is a tragedy and it’s something that has the entire world being reminded of exactly what a monster Putin is.”

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Mr Navalny’s wife Yulia was at the Munich Security Conference in Germany when reports of her husband’s death emerged.

She said: “I don’t know whether to believe or not this terrible news that we only receive from Russian government sources… But if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around him to know that they will be held accountable for everything they did to our country, to my family. And this day will come very soon.”

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends the Munich Security Conference (MSC), on the day it was announced that Alexei Navalny is dead, by the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region where he had been serving his sentence, in Munich, Germany February 16, 2024. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool
Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at the Munich Security Conference. Pic: Reuters

Protester detained seconds after attempting protest at Navalny-related ceremony in Moscow
Flowers were laid in Moscow for Alexei Navalny, where some protesters were arrested. Pic: AP

Meanwhile, flowers have been laid at vigils for Mr Navalny in Russia and across Europe.

People gathered at the Wall of Sorrow, in Moscow, a memorial to victims of political repression under Joseph Stalin, while others laid flowers at a memorial for victims of political repression in St Petersburg.

Protesters have also gathered outside the Russian Embassy in central London.


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