Antony Blinken addressed reporters for the first time as secretary of state on Wednesday, hours after being sworn in, and said the Biden administration has already challenged Russia on several human rights violations.
Namely, Blinken said that the arrest of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny was concerning. Navalny was arrested by Russian authorities on January 17, prompting protests from those who oppose Vladimir Putin’s government.
Blinken said that the US has a “deep concern” for Navalny’s safety and security, and that his voice represents many Russians.
OVD-Info, a human rights group that tracks political oppression, reported 3,980 arrests stemming from last weekend’s protests. The protests spread throughout Russia, with 1,544 of the arrests occurring in Moscow.
“We have already expressed our deep concern for the treatment of Navalny specifically, and more generally the human rights situation in Russia,” Blinken said. “It remains striking to me how concerned, and maybe even scared the Russian government seems to be of one man, Mr. Navalny.
“Across the board, as (President Joe Biden) has said, we’re reviewing all of these actions that are of deep concern of us, whether it is the treatment of Mr. Navalny, in particularly the use of a chemical weapon in an attempt to assimilate him.”
On Tuesday, the White House released a statement that Biden had a phone call with Putin, as Biden raised a number of concerns, “Including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 United States election, and the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny.”
Earlier this month, the US intelligence community released a statement that said Russia was the “likely actor” behind the SolarWinds hack. US intelligence officials said that 18,000 public and private sector computers were impacted by the breach. The US agencies said that 10 US government agencies were impacted.
“We’re very urgently looking into SolarWinds and its implications,” Blinken said. “We’re looking into reports of bounties placed by Russia on American forces in Afghanistan. And we’re looking at these questions of election interference.”
In August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement outlining efforts by Iran, China and Russia to attempt to undermine this year’s presidential election.
“Ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process,” William Evanina, director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said. "They may also seek to compromise our election infrastructure for a range of possible purposes, such as interfering with the voting process, stealing sensitive data, or calling into question the validity of the election results. However, it would be difficult for our adversaries to interfere with or manipulate voting results at scale.”
As part of Evanina’s assessment, he said that China and Iran were attempting to seek a favorable outcome for Biden, while Russia was working to ensure a favorable outcome for Trump.
Other notes from Wednesday’s briefing:
- Blinken said that he is encouraged by the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel, UAE and Bahrain. The Trump administration was active in brokering the agreement between the nations.
- "It is not a secret that the relationship between the United States and China is the most important in the world," Blinken said. He says the relationship has increasingly become adversarial, but says there are areas of mutual interest for both nations, including climate change.
- While Blinken is hopeful for the US to re-enter a nuclear agreement with Iran, Blinken said that an agreement will only come if Iran is in full compliance under the nuclear agreement that was in place prior to the Trump administration. Currently, Blinken said Iran is not in compliance with the multinational agreement what was signed in 2015 by the US, Iran, and several European nations.
Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk.Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook.