Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The death of Alexei Navalny, Russia's most potent and popular opposition leader, reflects the brutality and criminality of the Kremlin, which was allegedly behind his demise as well as the 2020 poisoning of Navalny with a military-grade nerve agent. Navalny died on Friday, in what's described as an Arctic penal colony — or in less technical terms, a gulag. These prisons are just like those from the Soviet era during which Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent, came of age and what Putin is trying to recreate.

While the Russian government denies complicity, it's highly likely Navalny's death, just like the poisoning, goes all the way to the top. "Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny's death," President Joe Biden said resolutely and rightly on Friday. "What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin's brutality. No one should be fooled, not in Russia, not at home, not anywhere in the world."

Konstantin Sonin, who knew Navalny from his work as a journalist and academic in Moscow, certainly isn't fooled. Now an economics professor at the University of Chicago, Sonin told an editorial writer that Navalny "was an extremely capable politician," in part because he understood and connected with average Russian citizens by appealing to their revulsion to Russian corruption.

"He was very much a Russian person," Sonin said, "but at the same time, he was like a Western politician — he so easily connected to any audience," including elements of the security services, who like millions of Russians watched Navalny's devastating videos exposing how the ruling class lived. "He was present for democracy" and "very clearly anti-war," Sonin said. But it was his common touch and the commonality of Russian frustration with the plundering of the country made him singular, and nearly irreplaceable, although his widow, Yulia Navalnaya — who made a dramatic appearance to address Western leaders at the Munich Security Conference just hours after the announcement of Navalny's death — said on Monday that she would endeavor to carry on her husband's work.

In doing so, she'll need to emulate a virtue that Sonin said particularly characterized Navalny: moral and indeed physical courage. "He did not have any fear," Sonin said.

Similar courage could be seen in the throngs who showed up to mourn Navalny, despite a heavy security presence in Moscow and beyond. Predictably and tragically, at least 366 were arrested just for laying flowers at a memorial, their fates in Putin's Stalinesque system of justice unknown.

When asked the best method for the U.S. and the West to respond to Navalny's death, Sonin said: "The best way to get rid of Putin is to give weapons to the armed forces of Ukraine."

That's the plan approved last week by a bipartisan cohort of 70 senators, who voted to approve a $95.3 billion package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan aid that's backed by Biden.

But not by his presidential predecessor, Donald Trump, who's so far convinced House Speaker Mike Johnson and seemingly most Republican representatives to not even vote on the bill. That's not the only dereliction of duty for the former commander in chief. He was conspicuously silent in the wake of Navalny's death, and when he did comment on Monday he made it about himself and his grievance with the U.S. instead of the grave danger from Putin and Russia.

"The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country," Trump wrote on Truth Social. "It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION!"

Hardly a rallying cry to courageous Russians risking a similar fate to fight Russian repression, as well as Western governments that are needed to keep Russia from taking more Ukrainian towns, like Avdiivka, which fell just hours after Navalny did, in part due to depleted ammunition.

Minnesota's Republican representatives have a chance to think and act independently to push for the freedom agenda they claim to back. Compliance, and complicity, with Trump's thwarting of Ukraine aid at such a crucial geopolitical moment is yet another disgraceful episode in their congressional tenures.

Rallying cries were necessary even for Navalny, according to a New York Times story about his correspondence, however restricted, from prison. One of his letter writers was Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Navalny told Kennedy that he cried two or three times reading a book about her father and thanked Kennedy for sending him a poster with a quote from the senator's speech about how a "ripple of hope" multiplied a million times "can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Just 47 when he died, Alexei Navalny was more a river than a ripple. Everyday Russians and Western democracies can keep that river from drying up by continuing to press for a Russia without oppression and resistance.