- President Donald Trump has barely acknowledged the reported poisoning of a top critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Alexei Navalny, Putin’s most prominent critic, is hospitalized and in a coma. It’s suspected he was poisoned.
- This is part of a long, well-documented trend of Trump coddling dictators.
- “What troubles me right now is our voice is missing … President Trump is not only indifferent to democracy, he embraces Putin the autocrat and makes excuses for him,” said a former US ambassador to Russia in an MSNBC interview.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s critics and opponents have a habit of getting poisoned. President Donald Trump has a habit of brushing it off.
More than 12 hours after the reports emerged that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny had likely been poisoned, the Trump administration on Thursday had barely said a thing.
Trump, who as president has exclusive access to what is arguably the most sophisticated intelligence apparatus in the world, told reporters he hadn’t seen anything about Navalny yet.
“We haven’t seen it yet. We’re looking at it. And [Secretary of State Mike Pompeo] is going to be reporting to me soon. Okay?” Trump said.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
Normally, American presidents would issue a statement expressing serious concern after such reports or incidents, decrying them as an assault on democracy while offering any necessary support.
But Trump, who is making baseless allegations about widespread voter fraud that undermine America’s democracy, is an unorthodox president who has habitually been soft on authoritarian leaders like Putin.
“There is good and there is evil in the world. For years, for decades Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have stood on the side of good against evil, and evil people, autocrats, had to think about that,” former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a Thursday MSNBC “Meet the Press” interview regarding Trump’s relative silence on the alleged poisoning of Navalny.
“What troubles me right now is our voice is missing … President Trump is not only indifferent to democracy, he embraces Putin the autocrat and makes excuses for him. He assigns moral equivalency between the United States of America and Putin’s Russia. And when you do that … you are enabling this kind of behavior,” McFaul added.
—Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) August 20, 2020
‘A lot of killers’
Trump in a Fox News interview in 2017 equated actions of the US government with those of Putin’s authoritarian government, defending the Russian president.
“He’s a killer,” then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said to Trump of Putin.
“There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” Trump said in response.
In one of the most infamous moments of his presidency thus far, Trump also appeared to side with Putin over the US intelligence community on the subject of Russian election interference during a summit in Helsinki in July 2018. Trump’s performance at the summit led to bipartisan condemnation in Washington.
Putin has a long history of flouting international law and norms, ranging from the annexation of Crimea to his record of going after dissidents and opponents.
Navalny, 44, who is believed to be Putin’s latest poisoning victim, is the Russian president’s most prominent opponent. The anti-corruption campainger is hospitalized and in a coma in intensive care. He fell ill on a flight back to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk, prompting an emergency landing.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s assistant, suspects he’s been poisoned. The only thing Navalny consumed that morning was tea, and Yarmysh believes this is likely how the poison was delivered, BBC News reported. Navalny is now reportedly being treated for poisoning at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk.
While Trump has barely shrugged at this news, other world leaders have expressed severe concern.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said they’re both willing to offer Navalny medical assistance and asylum.
“We are obviously ready to give Navalny and his loved ones all the assistance they need in terms of health, asylum, protection,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Merkel.
Putin is not the only dubious leader who’s received this type of lax treatment from Trump.
The president has remained a steadfast ally of Saudi Arabia despite the fact the CIA reportedly concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal killing of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
And Trump in 2018 said he takes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “at his word” when it comes to the death of US student Otto Warmbier. Warmbier was detained in North Korea, placed in a prison camp, and later released to the US in a vegetative state. He died not long after. Warmbier’s parents issued a scathing statement after Trump sided with the North Korean leader.
Experts on authoritarianism have continuously warned that Trump’s refusal to take a stand against the anti-democratic behavior of autocratic leaders worldwide only serves to embolden them.