In his Monday interview with NBC News, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. government of assassinating Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran whom Capitol Police shot during the January 6 riot.
Putin referenced Babbitt’s death, without using her name, when NBC’s Keir Simmons asked if he ordered the assassination of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny. Navalny was nearly killed with a nerve agent while flying from Siberia to Moscow in August 2020, recovered after treatment in Germany, and was jailed upon returning to Russia in January 2021. Agents of Russia’s FSB security service have been implicated in the attempt on Navalny’s life.
Simmons asked about Navalny after Putin deflected and stonewalled his questions on political repression in Russia. Putin used the January 6 incident to argue there is repression in America as well.
“Of course not. We don’t have this kind of habit of assassinating anybody. That’s one,” Putin said to the charge of ordering the attack on Navalny.
“Number two is I want to ask you: Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman? Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn’t go there to steal a laptop,” he continued.
“They came with political demands. Four hundred fifty people have been detained. They’re looking at jail time, between 15 and 25 years. And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn’t that persecution for political opinions?” Putin asked.
Putin accused the U.S. government of twisting and bypassing its own legal procedures to level excessive punishment against the Capitol protesters, while the Russian dissidents he is accused of repressing are, he claimed, actually criminals who have been convicted with due process:
Some have been accused of plotting to topple, to take over government power. Some are accused of robbery. They didn’t go there to rob.
The people who you have mentioned, yes, they were convicted for violating their status, having been previously convicted, given suspended sentences, which were essentially a warning to not violate the Russian laws. And they completely ignored the requirements of the law. The court went on and turned the conviction into real jail time.
Thousands and thousands of people ignore requirements of the law, and they have nothing to do with political activities, in Russia every year and they go to jail. If somebody is actually using political activities as a shield to deal with their issues, including to achieve their commercial goals, then it’s something that they have to be held responsible for.
Putin was referencing criticism that the January 6 protesters have received disproportionately stern treatment, a sentiment several Republican senators expressed in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland sent on June 7. Critics note that despite media and Democrat insistence that the Capitol Hill riot was an “insurrection,” most of the charges filed to date have been for milder infractions.
Simmons responded by calling Putin out for his habit of saying “What about America?” every time his government is accused of transgressions. Putin, like the Chinese government, is adept at studying American media controversies and finding social stress points to hit, opportunities to accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy and deny it has the moral standing to criticize human rights abuses elsewhere in the world.
As Putin was surely aware, Babbitt’s death is once again in the news because her family is demanding to know the identity of the Capitol Police officer who shot her. The family’s legal representatives are accusing the government of concealing the officer’s identity because he may have a questionable service record, and because “they don’t have a good explanation for the shooting.”
The Babbitt family lawyers have announced plans to file a $10 million civil lawsuit against the Capitol police for her death, charging that excessive force was used against the unarmed woman. The Justice Department said in April that it would not file charges against the officer.