Putin in an NBC News interview wouldn’t guarantee Navalny will leave prison alive.
The Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent is one of many points of contention between the US and Russia.
The White House suggested Biden will address Navalny during an upcoming summit with Putin.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with NBC News would not guarantee his most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, would leave prison alive.
NBC News’ Keir Simmons asked Putin if he was willing to “personally ensure that Alexei Navalny will leave prison alive?”
The Russian leader responded, “Look – such decisions in this country are not made by the president. They’re made by the court whether or not to set somebody free. As far as the health, all individuals who are in prison, that is something that the administration of the specific prison or penitentiary establishment is responsible for.”
Putin said that Navalny will not be treated differently than other people in the Russian prison system.
“He will not be treated any worse than anybody else. Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment,” Putin said of Navalny.
Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to Navalny, told MSNBC on Monday this was “the first time in my life that I was listening to Putin saying something honest.”
“That is clearly his aim that Alexei Navalny stays in prison until one of the two men dies, and now Putin confirmed that is his plan,” Volkov added.
Navalny’s health while imprisoned has been a frequent topic of concern among his allies, and there were worries he was on the verge of dying after a hunger strike this spring. The Biden administration has warned of severe consequences if Navalny dies while behind bars.
Putin’s responses to questions from Simmons on Russia’s extraordinary crackdown on dissent sent a chilling message to Presidet Joe Biden ahead of a highly anticipated summit between the US and Russian leaders in Geneva set to occur on Wednesday. When pressed about the Kremlin’s ruthless treatment of opponents, Putin during the interview repeatedly issued denials or shifted the conversation to criticize the US.
The Russian president has consistently signaled to Biden that he’s not only unmoved by US criticism of the Kremlin over its treatment of critics but also views Washington – and the West more broadly – as hypocritical for going after Russia for human rights abuses.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki during an interview with CNN on Saturday pushed back against suggestions from a Kremlin spokesperson that Navalny would not be mentioned during the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva.
“The president has every intention to raise human rights abuses, the jailing of dissidents and activists, which is a violation of what we feel should be norms around the world,” Psaki said.
During a press briefing following the NATO summit on Monday, Biden said, “Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic, fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy.”
Navalny was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok while in Siberia last August, and subsequently went to Germany for treatment for several months.
Upon returning to Moscow in January, the Kremlin critic was promptly arrested. The next month, Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of violating parole – including while receiving treatment in Germany – over a 2014 embezzlement conviction that top human rights groups said was politically motivated.
It’s widely agreed that Putin ordered Navalny’s poisoning and that he was thrown behind bars because of his ongoing criticism of the Russian leader and his allies.
Volkov, Navalny’s top aide, last week told Insider that it was “dumb” for Putin to put the anti-corruption campaigner in prison because it turned him into a symbol for people to rally behind. There have been mass protests in Russia in recent months over Navalny’s imprisonment.
The Biden administration in March slapped sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny’s poisoning. But neither domestic nor international pressure has led to any noticeable shifts in the Kremlin’s behavior.
Last week, Navalny’s political network was officially outlawed in Russia after a Moscow court dubbed it “extremist.”
Navalny is not the first critic of Putin to be poisoned or imprisoned. There’s a long history of opponents of Putin dying in violent or suspicious ways.
The Russian leader during the NBC News interview denied ordering Navalny’s poisoning
“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.
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