Trump breaks silence on Navalny, casts no blame on Putin

Since Alexei Navalny's death, former U.S. presidents and top members of Congress from both parties have denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin.

February 20, 2024 07:51 am | Updated 07:52 am IST - WASHINGTON

File picture of former U.S. President Donald Trump

File picture of former U.S. President Donald Trump | Photo Credit: Reuters

Donald Trump, who drew criticism as U.S. president for his praise of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, on Monday made his first public comment on the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a social media post that cast no blame but alluded to his own legal woes.

"The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country," the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination wrote on his Truth Social platform, appearing to link the death to his own political troubles.

"It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024"

It was not clear what similarities Mr. Trump was trying to draw with Russia's most prominent opposition leader. Navalny, 47, fought for years against what he called vast corruption in Putin's Russia, ruled by "crooks and thieves."

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

Legal battles

Mr. Trump has railed against a judge's order on Friday that he pay $355 million in penalties for overstating his net worth to dupe lenders, a decision he called politically motivated. Mr. Trump also is preparing for four upcoming criminal trials as he pursues the Republican nomination.

President Joe Biden on Friday directly blamed Mr. Putin for Navalny's death in a penal colony north of the Arctic Circle, as did Mr. Trump's main Republican rival, Nikki Haley. "Putin is responsible for Navalny's death," Mr. Biden said.

The Kremlin has denied involvement in his death and said that Western claims that Mr. Putin was responsible were unacceptable.

No blame for Putin

Since Navalny's death was reported on Friday, former U.S. presidents and top members of Congress from both parties also denounced Mr. Putin.

But Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate leading the race to challenge Mr. Biden in the November election, remained silent until Monday.

During his 2017-2021 White House tenure, Mr. Trump expressed admiration for Mr. Putin. In 2018, he refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking criticism at home.

Last week, he suggested the United States might not protect NATO allies who do not spend enough on defense from a potential Russian invasion.

Nikki Haley hits out at Trump

Ms. Haley, the former South Carolina governor who will face Mr. Trump as an underdog in her home state's presidential primary on Saturday, called Trump's response on Monday unpatriotic.

"Donald Trump could have condemned Vladimir Putin for being a murderous thug. Trump could have praised Navalny’s courage," she wrote on X. Instead, she said, he denounced America and compared it to Russia.

Campaigning in Sumter, South Carolina, later on Monday, Ms. Haley criticised Mr. Trump again over his NATO comments, saying, "He sided with a dictator who kills his political opponents."

Republican former U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, a vice chair of the congressional panel that investigated the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, recalled Trump's frequent promise to seek "retribution" against political opponents if he regains power.

"What Vladimir Putin did to Navalny is what retribution looks like in a country where the leader is not subject to the rule of law," Ms. Cheney said on Sunday.

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