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Joe Biden warns Vladimir Putin of ‘devastating’ consequences if Alexei Navalny dies in prison

·3 min read
Jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, in  Moscow in February (AP)
Jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, in Moscow in February (AP)

Joe Biden told Vladimir Putin the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny would lead to "devastating" consequences for Russia as the two presidents faced off over human rights in Geneva.

Following the shorter than expected US-Russia summit, the leaders confirmed discussions about Mr Navalny and two Americans “wrongly imprisoned”.

Mr Biden told reporters after the meeting that the US would continue to raise its concerns over fundamental human rights, and said he issued a warning should Mr Navalny died while being held in a Russian prison.

“I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia, I’ll go back to the same point. What do you think happens when he’s saying it’s not about hurting Navalny, you know all the stuff he says to rationalise the treatment of Navalny, and then he dies in prison,” Mr Biden said.

“I pointed out to him that, it matters a great deal when a country in fact, and they asked me why I thought it was important to continue to have problems with the president of Syria. I said because it’s a violation of international norms. It’s called a chemical weapons treaty. It can’t be trusted. It’s about trust, it’s about their ability to influence other nations in a positive way.”

Speaking earlier, Mr Putin refused to mention Mr Navalny by name when asked by reporters about Russia’s treatment of the political dissident.

Mr Putin blamed “this person” for his own imprisonment as he knew there was a warrant out for his arrest when returning from Germany to Russia, and deflected human rights questions by shifting to disorder during Black Lives Matter riots and the 6 January assault at the US Capitol.

“America just recently had very severe events after well-known events, after a killing of an African American, and an entire movement developed known as Black Lives Matter,” Mr Putin said.

“What we saw was disorder, destruction, violations of the law, etcetera. We feel sympathy for the United States of America, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory, and we’re doing our utmost in order to not allow it to happen.”

Asked about Mr Putin cracking down on opposition leaders to avoid a 6 January style riot or BLM groups to form in Russia, Mr Biden laughed and said it was a ridiculous comparison to make.

“It’s one thing for literally criminals to break through cordon, go into the Capitol, kill a police officer, and be held unaccountable and it is for people objecting, marching on the Capitol, and saying you are not allowing me to speak freely, you are not allowing me to do A, B, C, or D. And so they’re very different criteria,” Mr Biden said.

The president grew frustrated with reporters when pressed on why he thought Mr Putin would change his behaviour on human rights issues, snapping multiple times at CNN reporter Kaitlin Collins for asking how he could be so confident.

“I’m not confident of changing his behaviour, what the hell, why do you do all the time. When did I say I was confident,” Mr Biden said.

“I said, what I said was, let’s get it straight, I said what will change their behaviour is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything, I’m just stating the facts.”

When Ms Collins asked how the summit could have been constructive given Mr Putin downplayed human rights abuses and refused to say Mr Navalny’s name, Mr Biden questioned the female reporter’s qualifications for being a journalist.

“If you don’t understand that you’re in the wrong business,” Mr Biden said.

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