Trump’s press secretary refuses to blame Russia for the nerve-agent attack on Putin’s top opponent

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. Evan Vucci/AP
  • White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday avoided assigning direct blame to Russia for the poisoning of Putin’s top opponent, Alexei Navalny.
  • Russia has a long history of attacking dissidents.
  • Other world leaders have explicitly demanded an explanation from the Russian government, and Biden directly blamed the Kremlin for Navalny’s poisoning.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday decried the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny as “reprehensible” but declined to assign direct blame for the incident to the Russian government or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McEnany said the Trump administration was “deeply troubled” by Germany’s announcement on Wednesday that the nerve agent Novichok was found in Navalny’s system. Novichok has been used to poison other Russian dissidents.

But she did not explicitly blame the Kremlin for the nerve-agent attack, instead saying that the administration would work to hold “those in Russia” responsible for the incident accountable.

“We’re deeply troubled by the results released yesterday. Alexei Navalny’s poisoning is completely reprehensible. Russia has used chemical nerve agents in the past, and we’re working with our allies in the international community to hold those in Russia accountable,” McEnany said, essentially repeating a statement from the National Security Council released on Wednesday.

Navalny is Putin’s most prominent opponent and has faced various forms of harassment from the Russian government for years. In 2018, he sought to challenge Putin for the presidency but was ultimately barred from running for office.

The anti-corruption campaigner fell ill last month while travelling back to Moscow from Siberia. His aides immediately suspected he’d been poisoned. Russian authorities initially prohibited Navalny from leaving the country, but he was ultimately transferred to Germany for further treatment.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Trump has remained remarkably silent on the matter, even as he continues to attack his opponents and offer his thoughts on a variety of issues on Twitter. The president has faced widespread calls to issue a statement directly condemning the attack on Navalny, including from his former national security adviser John Bolton.

Other world leaders have forcefully demanded an explanation from the Russian government.

“It’s outrageous that a chemical weapon was used against Alexey Navalny,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted on Wednesday. “We have seen first-hand the deadly consequences of Novichok in the UK. The Russian government must now explain what happened to Mr Navalny — we will work with international partners to ensure justice is done.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement Wednesday that directly blamed the Kremlin for Navalny’s poisoning.

“Once again, the Kremlin has used a favourite weapon — an agent from the Novichok class of chemicals — in an effort to silence a political opponent,” Biden said.

Navalny remains in intensive care in a Berlin hospital.