Responding to brutal Putin

Lots of handwringing is taking place around the world after the death in prison of Alexei Navalny, the most prominent Russian critic of dictator Vladimir Putin.

There is also tough talk, as President Putin’s regime again asserts its brutal and oppressive authority.

Mr Navalny, 47, joins the list of Putin’s opponents and perceived threats who have died suddenly and usually suspiciously — a plane crash, a street assassination, a fall from a high window, a poisoning.

Mr Navalny’s death again underlines the relative impotence of the appalled West.

Putin’s modus operandi further emphasises how precious our freedoms and rights are. Every day we risk taking them for granted. The rule of law, relative freedom from corruption and free speech and media underpin our democracy, economy and way of life.

The death accentuates the importance of support for Ukraine in its fight to the death with the Russian bear. The second anniversary of the invasion looms.

Earlier optimism is fading as the vastly superior size of Russia asserts itself and as the Gaza Strip tragedy drags attention from a war of attrition.

Republicans, crucially, have blocked a package enabling further arms and supplies to Ukraine. The House of Representatives has now gone on holiday while more Ukrainian soldiers die for want of munitions.

All the while, Putin will be taking cheer in the attitudes and influence of former US President Donald Trump, who has a good chance of returning to the world’s most important post this November.

It is difficult to shock a world hardened by Putin’s callous ruthlessness. But, although Mr Navalny’s death was no surprise, it still jolts international consciousness.

The handwringing should manifest itself in reliable support for Ukraine, more treatment of Putin as an outlaw and additional pressure on Russia.

Mr Navalny’s death accentuates again the farce that will be Russia’s presidential elections next month. Token opposition candidates, state-controlled media and intimidation mock any pretence. It becomes staged theatre, and Putin maintains his long rule.

Only the bravest Russians even lay wreaths in memory of Mr Navalny. Hundreds have been arrested at memorials.

Their hero’s bravery inspired many. After the failed poisoning attempt, he could have remained in exile. Instead, he returned home. His chilling prediction — "when I am killed" — has come to pass.

He appeared healthy only two days before his death, allegedly from a blood clot.

It would seem Putin felt a degree of threat from charismatic and smart Mr Navalny, even after banishing him to an Arctic Circle jail. Putin has now sent a clear message just before the elections to those who might dare to organise against him.

This, in one way, is a sign of weakness, paranoia and perhaps even a mistake.

Putin miscalculated when he expected a Ukrainian romp and a largely supine West. Now, as he wrests an upper hand, he provides the rest of the world with fresh impetus to bolster their wavering resolve.

Nato defence spending is steadily rising, and the alliance is expanding. Russia and Ukraine return to the headlines. More motivation is provided for US support.

US President Joe Biden said Putin and his thugs were responsible for Mr Navalny’s death. He and the likes of British Foreign Minister David Cameron warn of consequences.

While they have limited options, the time has come to seriously consider supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles to hurt Russia, as well as planes to tilt the airspace war.

Putin’s character and method are so in the world’s face that pressure should also go on those states trading with Russia.

Any suggestions of appeasement need to be replaced by resolution.

Putin should come to regret the death of Mr Navalny.