Biden Blames Putin for Aleksei Navalny’s Death, Urges Ukraine Funding

The president said he “hopes to God it helps” push Congress to act.

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the reported death of Alexei Navalny from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on February 16, 2024 in Washington, DC. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

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At a televised White House press conference Friday, President Joe Biden rebuked the Kremlin for insisting that leading Russian dissident Aleksei Navalny simply lost consciousness and died after taking a stroll in prison.

“Make no mistake: [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” Biden said. “Putin is responsible. What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality. No one should be fooled, not in Russia, not at home, not anywhere in the world.”

Navalny had been incarcerated in a high-security prison at an Arctic penal colony known as Polar Wolf on extremism charges widely believed to be politically contrived. Known as the country’s most outspoken critic of Putin and his United Russia party, Navalny had returned to Russia from Germany after receiving treatment there in 2020 for poisoning by a nerve agent called Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet Union. Upon re-arriving in Russia in 2021, Navalny was immediately arrested and subsequently sentenced to 19 years in prison.

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

Speaking to reporters, Biden said Navalny’s mysterious death reinforces the need for Congress to put together an aid package to help Ukraine continue fighting Russia’s invasion. 

“It’s about time they step up, don’t you think?” Biden said, referencing the Republican-led House of Representatives that embarked on a two-week recess before passing Ukraine funding. “Instead of going on a two-week vacation. Two weeks! They’re walking away. Two weeks! What are they thinking? My God. This is bizarre. And it’s just reinforcing all the concern and almost, I won’t say panic, but real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous.”

Earlier this week, the Senate passed a $95 billion package that included funding for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies, but that bill was a non-starter in the lower chamber, where a group of conservative legislators closely aligned with former president Donald Trump are opposed to providing Ukraine unconditional aid money.

Because the US has already imposed broad sanctions on Russia, there is little beyond sending money to Ukraine that the US could do to punish Putin. 

“This tragedy reminds us of the stakes of this moment. We have to provide the funding so Ukraine can keep defending itself against Putin’s vicious onslaughts and war crimes,” Biden said. 

His comments are in stark contrast to ones made earlier this month by Trump, who made a shocking assertion that he would allow Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to any NATO country that doesn’t meet defense spending guidelines. The statement implies that Trump, if re-elected, would not abide by NATO’s most important principle: that an attack on any member country is an attack on all member countries, and should be treated as such. 

Asked whether Navalny’s death will spur the House to fund Ukraine’s defense, Biden said, “I hope to God it helps.”

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