In an interview with NBC News Keir Simmons, Russian President Vladmir Putin, when asked by if he was willing to personally ensure that Alex Navalny will leave prison alive, Putin 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.”

Alexei Navalny, is a Russian opposition leader, lawyer, and anti-corruption activist and most prominent critic of President Putin.  He came to international prominence by organizing anti-government demonstrations and running for office to advocate reforms against corruption in Russia, and against President Putin and his government.
Navalny was poisoned by the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok while in Siberia last August, and subsequently went to Germany for treatments for several months.  When he returned to Moscow in January, the Putin critic was promptly arrested.  A month later, he was sentenced to two and one-half years in prison for violating parole, including while receiving treatment in Germany, over a 2014 embezzlement conviction that top human rights groups said was political motivated.

It’s widely agreed that Putin ordered Navalny’s poisoning and thrown behind bars because of his ongoing criticism of the Russian leader and his allies.  During the NBC interview, Putin denied ordering Navalny’s poisoning.  “We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Putin said.

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.  Last week, Navalny’s political network was officially outlawed in Russia by a Moscow court. after the court dubbed it extremist.

President Putin said, “He will not be treated any worse than anybody else.  Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment,” referring to 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.”

Putin’s responses to questions from Simmons on Russia’s extraordinary crackdown on dissent sent a stern message to President Biden ahead of a highly anticipated summit between the U.S. and Russian leaders in Geneva set to occur on Wednesday.  The Russian president has consistently signaled to Biden that he’s not only unmoved by U.S. criticism of the Kremlin over its treatment of critics and views Washington, and the West more broadly, as hypocritical for going after Russia form human rights abuses.

In an interview on Saturday with CNN, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back against suggestions from a Kremlin spokesperson than Navalny would not be mentioned during the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva.  “Psaki said, “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.”

The Biden administration in March, put sanctions on Russian officials over Navalny’s poisoning.  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.”  Neither domestic nor international pressure has led to any noticeable shifts in the Kremlin’s behavior.

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