WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden issued a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of their Wednesday summit that the death of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny would hurt Russia’s relationships with the rest of the world.
“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” Biden said at a press conference Monday following the NATO summit.
“It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” he said.
Concern over Navalny’s imprisonment and worsening health condition is the latest drumbeat in the already tense relations between Moscow and the West.
A joint NATO statement on Monday said that Russia’s “aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security.” It cited Moscow’s military buildup, its use of cyberattacks and hybrid warfare, the annexation of Crimea and Kremlin-funded disinformation campaigns as some of the actions.
As Biden prepares to meet one on one with Putin, the White House insists that the Geneva summit does not amount to a reward for Putin, placing him on a par with the United States.
Instead, the meeting will be a businesslike review of the bilateral relationship. Biden will raise several pressing concerns but will also seek areas where Russia and the United States can work together.
Biden praised Putin as well on Monday, saying he is “bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is, as they say, a worthy adversary.”
This is not the first time Biden has pressed Putin about Navalny’s situation. Shortly after he was sworn in, Biden spoke to Putin by phone and said he told his counterpart that Navalny’s imprisonment was “of deep concern” to the United States.
“Mr. Navalny, like all Russian citizens, is entitled to his rights under the Russian constitution,” Biden said in a speech to U.S. diplomats. “He’s been targeted — targeted for exposing corruption. He should be released immediately and without condition.”
In January, Navalny flew to Russia from Berlin, Germany, where he had spent nearly half a year recovering after having been poisoned last summer. He was arrested at passport control as soon as he landed.
A month later, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to more than two years in jail for parole violations, charges he said were politically motivated.
The German government said that Navalny was poisoned by a chemical nerve agent in August of 2020, and that toxicology reports provided “unequivocal evidence” of the poison.
The nerve agent was in the family of Novichok, which was developed decades ago by the Soviet Union. Toxicology tests conducted in France and Sweden came to the same conclusion.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied playing a role in Navalny’s poisoning.
In March, the Biden administration slapped sanctions on seven members of the Russian government for the alleged poisoning of Navalny.
Washington also imposed sanctions on 14 entities involved in the chemical and biological industrial base in Russia.
At the time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a statement that the sanctions would “send a clear signal” to Russia that use of chemical weapons and human rights abuses carry hefty consequences.