The suspected poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny underscores the dangers Russians face for speaking out against President Vladimir Putin. It’s also a warning to those currently protesting for democratic change in neighboring Belarus. So long as Putin remains at the helm, Russia will continue to pose a serious threat to democratic values, in its periphery and beyond.
A coherent strategy to confront this challenge will be essential for the next U.S. administration. It should include responding more directly to Putin’s provocations, raising the costs for Russian misconduct and strengthening America’s relationships with its NATO allies. The U.S. shouldn’t rule out cooperation with Moscow in areas of mutual interest, but only when doing so demonstrably advances its own security.
Above all, Washington must send clear signals to Putin about the kinds of behavior the U.S. deems unacceptable. The Trump administration’s policies have instead been characterized by inconstancy. Since 2017, the U.S. has imposed sanctions against Russian individuals and some government entities for a range of actions, from conducting cyberattacks to meddling in Ukraine to poisoning a former Russian spy living in the U.K. Yet the impact of these measures has been blunted by Trump’s resistance to tougher penalties, his acceptance of Putin’s denial of interference in the 2016 election and his push to welcome Russia back into the Group of Seven club of industrial nations.