Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with NBC News published on Monday would not guarantee his most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, would leave prison alive.
NBC News’ Keir Simmons asked Putin whether he was willing to “personally ensure that Alexei Navalny will leave prison alive.”
The Russian leader 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.”
Putin said Navalny will not be treated differently from other people in the Russian prison system.
“He will not be treated any worse than anybody else. Nobody should be given any kind of special treatment,” Putin said of Navalny.
Leonid Volkov, the 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,” Volkov added.
Navalny’s health while imprisoned has been a frequent topic of concern among his allies, and there were worries he was on the verge of dying after a hunger strike this spring. The Biden administration has warned of severe consequences if Navalny dies while behind bars.
Putin’s responses to questions from Simmons on Russia’s crackdown on dissent sent a chilling message to Presidet Joe Biden ahead of a highly anticipated summit between the US and Russian leaders in Geneva set for Wednesday. When pressed about the Kremlin’s ruthless treatment of opponents, Putin during the interview repeatedly issued denials or shifted the conversation to criticize the US.