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National News

Death of Russian dissident raises stakes for U.S. aid to Ukraine, Biden warns

AP Photo

Jacob Fischler, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 16, 2024

President Joe Biden urged U.S. House Republicans on Friday to approve funding for Ukraine after Russian dissident Alexei Navalny died in the custody of Vladimir Putin’s government.

Speaking from the White House Friday afternoon, Biden said the death of Navalny, a persistent critic of Russian President Putin, should add urgency to assisting Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion. The United States could not resupply Ukraine without Congress passing a supplemental funding bill, Biden said.

Biden criticized efforts by congressional Republicans to block funding for Ukraine, saying he hoped Navalny’s death would push them to pass an aid bill.

The Senate passed a $95 billion emergency spending package with assistance for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Feb. 13, but the U.S. House adjourned Thursday for a President’s Day recess without acting on aid.

House members are scheduled to return Feb. 28.

“It’s about time they step up, don’t you think? Instead of going on a two-week vacation?” Biden told reporters. “Two weeks. What are they thinking? My God, this is bizarre. And it’s just reinforcing all the concern, and almost — I won’t say panic, but real concern about the United States being a reliable ally. This is outrageous.”

Biden renewed his criticism of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who last weekend said he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that had not met their obligations to the alliance.

“This is an outrageous thing for a president to say,” Biden said Friday. “As long as I’m president, America stands by our sacred commitment to our NATO allies.”

Trump is the leading Republican candidate to oppose Biden’s reelection in November.

Asked if Navalny’s death was an assassination, Biden said it was unclear exactly what happened, but that blame clearly lay with Putin.

“There’s no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did,” Biden said.

Navalny was a longtime critic of the authoritarian leader. He survived a poisoning widely seen as an assassination attempt in 2020. After receiving treatment and recuperating in Berlin, he returned to Russia in 2021 and was imprisoned. Russia’s prison service said Friday he died in custody.

Biden called the death “more proof of Putin’s brutality.”

The U.S. president praised Navalny’s courage and dedication to his cause.

“Even in prison, he was a powerful voice for the truth, which is kind of amazing when you think about it. And he could have lived safely in exile after the assassination attempt on him in 2020, which nearly killed him,” Biden said. “He knew it was a cause worth fighting for and even worth dying for.”

Conversations with Netanyahu

Biden spoke for about five minutes, then took a handful of questions from reporters, including on the Israel-Hamas war.

Biden said he’s had “extensive conversations” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days in which he urged Netanyahu to seek a ceasefire with Hamas to allow the release of hostages held by the militant group.

Biden said he did not anticipate Israel would launch “any massive land invasion in the meantime.”

U.S. citizens are among those still held hostage after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on the U.S. ally, Biden said.

Biden has faced increasing pressure from progressive members of his party to take a stronger role in forcing Israel to cease its counteroffensive.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.