US warns Russia of consequences if Putin critic Navalny dies

Washington: As tensions between Washington and Moscow continue to escalate, US President Joe Biden’s administration is weighing options to ‘punish’ Russia if imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny dies in state custody, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday.

“We have communicated to the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their custody is their responsibility and they will be held accountable by the international community,” Sullivan told CNN.

“In terms of the specific measures that we would take, we are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose and I’m not going to telegraph that publicly at this point… But we have communicated that there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies,” he added.

According to The New York Times, the personal doctors of Navalny sharply escalated their warnings over the weekend about his health failure from a hunger strike, the lingering effects of an attempted poisoning with a chemical weapon and what they said was ill-treatment in prison.

With the reports of the opposition leader’s deteriorating health, his supporters announced a street protest in what they called a final effort to persuade the authorities to allow access for independent doctors, and to draw attention to the grim standoff over health care in detention for the Russian President Vladamir Putin. Navalny is nearly three weeks into a hunger strike over his medical treatment in prison.

CNN reported that Navalny said in a post on his official Instagram account on Friday that he is being threatened with force-feeding as he continues a hunger strike. He had returned to Russia in January from hospitalization in Germany, where he was recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that’s been blamed on the Kremlin.

Biden on Saturday said Navalny’s situation was “totally unfair and totally inappropriate” but declined to weigh in further. He did not raise Navalny during remarks about Russia sanctions this week, and the subject was not a topic of discussion in a phone call on Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to White House and Kremlin readouts of the conversation.

When asked why Biden had not used his platform to call for Navalny’s release this week, Sullivan said the White House had determined that private communications were more effective.

“We actually have made the judgment that direct communication to the Russian government on this issue — including both how we see it, how our allies and partners see it and what might unfold should something terrible happen to Mr. Navalny … should he pass away — and we have judged that rather than just make general statements publicly, the best way to deal with this issue is privately and through diplomatic channels direct to the upper-most levels of the Russian government,” Sullivan said.

CNN further reported that Sullivan on Sunday declined to say whether Biden would still agree to meet with Putin should Navalny die in prison.

“There isn’t currently a summit on the books,” he said. “It’s something we’re talking about. And that summit would have to take place, of course, in the right circumstances in a way that could actually move the relationship forward.”

“But I’m not going to get into hypotheticals about when or whether the summit would likely occur,” Sullivan said.

The New York Times further reported that Navalny, who is 44, had been in good health before narrowly surviving an attack with a rare nerve agent last summer. He and Western governments blamed the Kremlin. Putin has denied any role in the poisoning, and prison officials say they are providing adequate care.

According to Sputnik, The Kremlin believes that the health condition of Russian convicts should not be a topic of interest for foreign nations, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, commenting on US President Joe Biden’s recent claim that Russia will pay a price for the possible death of jailed figure Navalny in prison.

Earlier in the day, Russia’s detention authority announced that Navalny would be transferred from prison to a local hospital for convicts. The Kremlin spokesman told reporters that the Kremlin does not monitor Navalny’s health and cannot give credence to the claims his condition is critical.

Sputnik further reported that the 44-year-old is serving a 2.5-year prison term on financial misconduct charges. His defence team has complained that he is suffering from severe back pain caused by two spinal hernias.

Last week, the Biden administration announced it would expel ten Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on dozens of Russian nationals and companies. The US government also moved to raise Russia’s borrowing costs by barring US entities from buying bonds directly from Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said a response to those measures was “inevitable.”