How Biden Can Avenge Navalny’s Death

President Biden said last week that he was “looking at a whole number of options” to make good on his 2021 warning to Vladimir Putin that Russia would face “devastating” consequences if Aleksei Navalny were to die in prison. Now that Putin has treated that warning with his customary contempt, Biden needs to act as a matter of moral clarity and personal credibility, and for the strategic imperative of demonstrating to a dictator that American threats aren’t hollow.

But how? Some analysts suggest that the administration, which on Tuesday vowed to impose tougher sanctions, will struggle to find ways to make them more effective, and that the best single policy to hurt Putin is to continue supporting Ukraine militarily. They’re right about the second point. As several close Russia watchers told me, however, there’s much more to be done about the first.

There are four broad approaches.

Finances: “The single most important thing we can do to hit back at Putin is to enact legislation to confiscate the $300 billion of frozen Russian bank reserves for the defense and reconstruction of Ukraine,” Bill Browder, investor and political activist, wrote me on Monday. Browder is best known as the moving force behind the Magnitsky Acts, which put sanctions on Russian officials implicated in corruption and other abuses.

Browder’s suggestion isn’t new. And it’s been resisted by U.S. government officials who fear that it exceeds what American law allows and would encourage a flight from dollar assets. But as the Harvard legal scholar Larry Tribe and a team of experts from the firm of Kaplan, Heckler & Fink noted last year in a report for the Renew Democracy Initiative, seizing Russia’s assets is explicitly allowed as a “countermeasure,” an act designed to compel an aggressor to come into compliance with international law. As for the flight-from-the-dollar argument, it might otherwise be persuasive if the need to save Ukraine and punish Russia weren’t more urgent.

Seizing Russia’s assets “would be like two fingers in the eyes from the West,” Browder added. “Putin doesn’t care how many soldiers are killed, but he cares profoundly about his money. To top it off, all countries should call this new legislation the Navalny Act.”

Recognition: “Do not recognize Putin as the president of Russia after March 17 — that simple,” Garry Kasparov, the legendary chess and human-rights champion, told me by phone from Berlin. “Do not recognize the regime as legitimate.”

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