Harris warns ‘Russia is responsible’ for Navalny death as world leaders react

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said it was ’obvious’ Putin was directly behind the death

Kate Devlin,Andrew Feinberg,Katy Clifton
Friday 16 February 2024 14:47 GMT
Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies in Russian jail

US Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday placed blame for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny squarely on the shoulders of Russian president Vladimir Putin, leading a string of world leaders who have reacted in horror to the news.

Ms Harris told attendees at the annual Munich Security Conference that the US government is still working to confirm the facts and circumstances of Navalny’s passing, but called the development “terrible news” while offering prayers to his family, including his wife Yulia Navalnaya, who is also attending the conference.

“If confirmed, this would be a further sign of Putin's brutality,” said Ms Harris, who then added: “Whatever story they tell, let us be clear, Russia is responsible”.

Ms Harris’ comments echoed remarks made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the hours after Navalny’s death was announced in Russian state media.

Mr Blinken, who is attending the conference as part of the US delegation led by Ms Harris, told reporters travelling with him in Germany that Russia had “persecuted, poisoned, and imprisoned” the anti-corruption activist for decades and said the report of his death, if true, “underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built”.

“Russia is responsible for this,” Mr Blinken said.

He added that he and other US officials would be “talking to the many other countries concerned about Alexei Navalny, especially if these reports turn out to be true”.

Mr Blinken’s British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron, said there should be “consequences” for Vladimir Putin as he blamed Alexei Navalny’s death on the “action that Putin’s Russia took”.

Speaking to broadcasters in Munich, the Foreign Secretary said: “Alexei Navalny was an incredibly brave fighter against corruption and he gave up everything in campaigning for what he believed in, and my heart goes out to his wife and to his family.

“We should be clear about what has happened here. Putin’s Russia imprisoned him, trumped up charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to an Arctic penal colony and now he’s tragically died.”

“We should hold Putin accountable for this, and no one should be in any doubt about the dreadful nature of Putin’s regime in Russia after what has just happened.”

Asked whether there should be consequences, Lord Cameron said: “There should be consequences because there’s no doubt in my mind that this man was a brave fighter against corruption, for justice, for democracy, and look what Putin’s Russia did to him.

“They trumped up charges, they imprisoned him, they poisoned him, they sent him to an Arctic penal colony and he’s died, and that is because of the action that Putin’s Russia took”.

Other world leaders weighed in on reports of Navalny’s death in similar fashion, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak describing it as “terrible news”.

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

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the news.

“We need to establish all the facts, and Russia needs to answer all the serious questions about the circumstances of his death,” he warned.

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky went further, saying it was “obvious” Putin was directly behind the death.

That view was backed by Latvian President Edgars Rinkevics, who said Mr Navalny had been "brutally murdered by the Kremlin".

"Whatever your thoughts about Alexei Navalny as the politician, he was just brutally murdered by the Kremlin. That's a fact and that is something one should know about the true nature of Russia's current regime. My condolences to the family and friends," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The European Union also said it holds Russia responsible for the death, EU Council President Charles Michel said.

"Alexei Navalny fought for the values of freedom and democracy," he said. "For his ideals, he made the ultimate sacrifice. The EU holds the Russian regime solely responsible for this tragic death."

Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs Tobias Billstrom said that if the news was true it was another “terrible crime” by Putin’s regime.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told National Public Radio (NPR): "If it's confirmed, it is a terrible tragedy. And given the Russian government's long and sordid history of doing harm to its opponents, it raises real and obvious questions about what happened here."

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