Biden says Navalny death is ‘proof of Putin’s brutality’

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President Joe Biden on Friday said Russian president Vladimir Putin is responsible for the death of Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader who is reported to have died in a Russian penal colony in Siberia after several years of imprisonment for opposing Mr Putin’s regime.

In remarks delivered from the White House before he departed for an event in Ohio, Mr Biden said he was “not surprised” and “outraged” by reports that Navalny had died.

He described the late anti-corruption activist as having “bravely stood up to the corruption, the violence and all the bad things that Putin’s government was doing”.

“In response, Putin had him poisoned. He had him arrested and prosecuted for fabricated crimes,” then “sent to prison and held in isolation,” said Mr Biden, who added that it was “kind of amazing” that Navalny kept up his criticism of the Putin regime from behind bars.

“Even in prison, he was a powerful voice for the truth,” Mr Biden said, recalling how Navalny could have remained safe in exile following a 2020 poisoning attempt on his life by Russian security services but chose to return to his homeland even at the risk of being arrested and killed.

“He did it anyway, because he believed so deeply in his country and Russia ... but make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” he said. “What happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality”.

Mr Biden continued to eulogise Navalny and compare him favourably to the man he opposed, Mr Putin, telling reporters that the Russian people would mourn Navalny as having been “so many things that Putin was not”.

“He was brave, he was principled, he was dedicated to building a Russia where the rule of law existed and where it applied to everybody,” he said.

Continuing, the president said Navalny’s death is a reminder of “the stakes of this moment,” and called on the House of Representatives to enact the supplemental appropriations bill he has called for that would fund Ukraine’s continued defence against Russian invading forces.

“We have to provide the funding so Ukraine can keep defending itself against Putin's vicious onslaught of war crimes,” he said.

He added that “history is watching” the lower chamber, where Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has thus far chosen to heed the wishes of Mr Biden’s pro-Russian opponent in the 2024 election, former president Donald Trump, who has repeatedly railed against funding for Ukraine and pushed his GOP allies to block it.

“The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment, will never be forgotten. It's gonna be down in the pages of history. It really is. It's consequential. And the clock is ticking and this has to happen,” he said.

Asked whether he believed Navalny’s death to have been an “assassination,” Mr Biden said his administration has not yet determined exactly what happened to the late opposition leader.

But he told reporters there was “no doubt” that Navalny’s death “was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did”.

He also said his administration is “looking at a whole number of options” to fulfil a promise he made during his 2021 summit with Mr Putin in Geneva. At the time, Mr Biden vowed to impose “devastating consequences” on Russia in the event Navalny died in government custody.

He added that “in the meantime,” Russia has suffered “a hell of a lot of consequences” as a result of the unlawful invasion of Ukraine ordered by Mr Putin nearly two years ago.

Turning to the subject of Mr Trump, the president repeated some of the harsh criticism he’d levelled his predecessor earlier this week after Mr Trump told attendees at an event in South Carolina that he’d threatened to allow Russia to freely attack Nato members that don’t spend enough on defence.

“All of us should reject the dangerous statements made by the previous president that invited Russia to invade our Nato allies if they weren't paying up. He said if an ally did not pay their dues, he encouraged Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want,’” he said.

Mr Biden appeared to pause for several seconds, as if he was holding his tongue from uttering language not suitable for a nationally televised speech.

He then quipped that he should clear his head rather than say what he was really thinking, and instead condemned Mr Trump’s remarks as “an outrageous thing for a president to say”.

He added that the US would be standing by the “sacred” commitment to its’ Nato allies as long as he is in the Oval Office, just as Nato has stood by the US in the past, and said Mr Putin “should know” that the US will continue to “defend every inch of Nato territory” against “any adversary” that attacks any member state.