A day after the Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee, veteran diplomat Antony Blinken, as the secretary of state, Blinken gave his first press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Revealing where Biden's foreign policy emphasis will be over the coming months, he came out swinging against Putin (who else?) and Russia (in addition to mention of Iran and China in the course of the briefing), voicing that the US is "deeply concerned" about jailed opposition activist and politician Alexei Navalny.
Blinken said the US administration is now mulling "actions in response to his detention in Russia," according to Reuters. He highlighted continued concerns for Navalny's "security and safety".
To review, Navalny is serving a 30-day jail sentence for skipping probation related to a 2014 criminal conviction. He recently returned to Moscow from Berlin where he had been recovering from an alleged nerve agent poisoning in August. He and German investigators have claimed it was part of a Russian intelligence assassination attempt on orders from Putin, with the Russian president brushing off the accusations given Navalny is "not important enough" to be a target of state security and intelligence services. Navalny is now urging his supporters to the streets in defiance of the government.
"We have a deep concern for Mr. Navalny’s safety and security and the larger point is that his voice is the voice of many, many, many Russians and it should be heard, not muzzled," Blinken said in his statements, also noting the US is not ruling out any punitive action on the table.
He further said he finds it striking that the Putin government is so "frightened of one man, Mr. Navalny" - in an echo of earlier comments he made. Blinken said in the press briefing:
"It remains striking to me how concerned and maybe even scared the Russian government seems to be of one man, Mr. Navalny."
He said the Biden White House is closely watching the human rights situation inside Russia, following Saturday protests where hundreds were reportedly detained in demonstrations and clashes with police which were deemed 'unauthorized'.
Meanwhile the Russia hawks are already talking "options":
An option for the US government, “would be to fully sanction Russian sovereign debt or financial institutions tied to Putin...options have been available for years, and the attempted assassination and arrest of Navalny might be good reason to invoke them.” https://t.co/mIm5q2zikT— John Sipher (@john_sipher) January 27, 2021
Blinken also raised other Russia-related issues being closely watched, as Reuters summarizes: "Blinken said at his first press briefing after being sworn in that the Biden administration was reviewing how to respond to actions by Russia, including the alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on Navalny, the Solar Winds cyber attack, reports of bounties on American forces and interference in U.S. elections."
The day prior, President Biden had raised these issues in a phone call with Putin; however, details in terms of the Russian leader's response were not forthcoming.
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Here's the full Wednesday press briefing: