Live updates: Biden says ‘Putin is responsible’ after Navalny death report

President Biden personally blamed President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Friday for the alleged death of jailed Russian dissident Aleksei A. Navalny, citing the case in pressing House Republicans to approve military aid to Ukraine. in his war with Moscow.

But while he once threatened to impose “devastating” consequences on Putin if Navalny died in prison, the president admitted there was not much more he could do after sanctions and other actions taken over the past two years in response to the Russian invasion. from Ukraine.

“Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” Biden said in a televised statement from the White House. “Putin is responsible. What happened to Navalny is further proof of Putin’s brutality. “No one should be fooled, not in Russia, not at home, not anywhere in the world.”

Asked if Navalny had been killed, Biden said the United States did not fully understand the circumstances. “The answer is that we don’t know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that Navalny’s death was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did.”

Navalny’s death came at a delicate moment in the United States’ confrontation with Russia over its aggression in Europe and its domestic repression. House Republicans are blocking $60.1 billion in military aid to Ukraine at the behest of former President Donald J. Trump, who boasts that he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO allies that don’t spend enough. in their armed forces.

Biden seeks to defend American leadership in the world and assure European allies that the United States still has their back. This week he sent Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to the Munich Security Conference in Germany to allay fears of an American withdrawal. But the mood in Munich was gloomy even before reports of Navalny’s death. American attendees said that wherever they went, they were besieged by distraught Europeans.

“What we want to hear are real guarantees that Americans are not going to abandon Ukraine and Europe,” Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States and former businessman, said before Harris’ speech at the conference. “There is panic in this country.”

Harris attempted to make precisely those assurances, although there was widespread skepticism in the room, where many were already bracing for the prospect of a second Trump term if he wins the November election.

“In these times of instability, it is clear: America cannot go backwards,” Harris said at the conference. “The United States must firmly defend democracy. We must uphold international rules and norms and we must support our allies. That’s what America’s ideals represent, and the American people know that’s what makes us strong. And make no mistake, the American people will meet this moment and America will continue to lead.”

Speaking in Washington, Biden cited Navalny’s death to make his argument to Congress for approving security aid to Ukraine and expressed outrage that the House had gone into recess without taking action.

“It’s about time they stepped up, don’t you think?” he said. “Instead of going on vacation for two weeks. Two weeks! They are moving away. Two weeks! What are they thinking? My God. This is strange. And this just reinforces all the concern and almost, I won’t say panic, but a real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous.”

It was unclear exactly what had happened to Navalny, but no one in the Biden administration was taking seriously the official explanation that he had simply lost consciousness and died after taking a stroll through his Arctic prison. If he was killed, U.S. officials will have to consider what that says about Putin right now. Some analysts said that with events seemingly going his way in Washington lately, Putin may have felt more impunity to act against his most prominent domestic rival without fear of punishment.

Nearly three years ago, Biden said he had warned Putin during a meeting in Geneva not to harm Navalny while he was in prison, adding that no one would buy any Russian stories if he turned up dead. . “I made it clear to him that I think the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia,” Biden told reporters after the 2021 meeting.

“What do you think happens when he says it’s not about hurting Navalny, all those things he says to rationalize Navalny’s treatment, and then he dies in prison?” Biden said at the time. “It’s about trust. It is about his ability to influence other nations in a positive way.”

But the president admitted Friday that those “devastating” consequences would be difficult to achieve because in the years since, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had led the United States and the West to impose sweeping sanctions and other penalties on Moscow. However, Biden said, “we are contemplating what more can be done.”

Biden said Navalny’s death should remind Americans of the importance of standing up to Putin and criticized Trump, his likely challenger, for encouraging Russia to attack its allies. Biden, calling it a “dangerous statement,” promised to support Europe against Russian aggression.

The president praised Navalny’s courage for returning to Russia even after being poisoned and knew that returning would put him at risk of being sent to prison, which he was.

“He was so many things that Putin was not,” Biden said. “He was brave, principled and dedicated to building a Russia where the rule of law existed and applied to everyone.”

Steven Erlanger contributed reports.