President Joe Biden’s national security adviser warned Sunday that there will be repercussions for Russia if Putin critic Alexei Navalny dies, amid reports that his health is rapidly deteriorating in prison.
“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,” Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He did not specify what action the U.S. and its allies might take in the event of Navalny’s death.
“In terms of the specific measures that we would undertake, we are looking at a variety of different costs that we would impose,” Sullivan said. “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.”
Navalny was arrested upon returning to Russia in January and has been on a hunger strike for several weeks. Navalny’s doctor warned Saturday that the opposition leader “could die at any moment.”
Navalny blames Moscow for his poisoning by a nerve agent last year, which Russia has denied. The U.S. slapped sanctions on Russia in March over Navalny’s poisoning.
Biden denounced the treatment of Navalny by Russia on Saturday.
“It’s totally, totally unfair,” Biden said, according to a White House pool report. “Totally inappropriate.”
But Sullivan was pressed by host Dana Bash over why Biden isn’t demanding Navalny’s release or granting him medical attention at “every single opportunity,” including in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week or in announcing further sanctions against Russia on Thursday. Sullivan responded that the Biden administration sees diplomatic channels as the best way to advocate on behalf of Navalny.
“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 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 uppermost levels of the Russian government,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan declined to discuss whether a potential summit between Biden and Putin could be scrapped in the event of Navalny’s death. Biden proposed a summit “in the coming months” in his call with Putin, according to a White House readout of their conversation.
“There isn’t currently a summit on the books,” Sullivan 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.”