Angela Merkel recently condemned the alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny:

"It is shocking information about the attempted murder by poison of one of Russia's leading opposition members," said Merkel in a later news conference.
"This means that Alexei Navalny is a victim of a crime," Merkel added. "It was an attempt to silence him. I condemn this in the strongest possible terms on behalf of the entire German government."

The foreign minister of Germany went as far as to threaten sanctions if the allegations are proven:

Germany would be ready to impose diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it concludes that Russian state agencies were behind the poisoning of a critic of President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday.

But why would foreign governments care so much about a member of the Russian opposition? In another question I've asked about the somewhat related scandal around the Skripal poisoning and received the following answer:

In fact, one of the tests for a government to be recognized as sovereign is that they reserve for themselves a monopoly on the use of force within their boundaries. Many governments refuse recognition of the various aspirational Palestinian governments precisely because they do not have this. You simply must have this condition to be considered sovereign in your own territory.
Because of this, willfully using violence within the borders of another country without their permission has always been considered a red line. Doing that is simply incompatible with recognition of that government as a sovereign entity.

However in this instance the poisoning happened on Russian territory to a Russian citizen with no ties to foreign countries, so its unclear why the international community expressed a similar level of dissatisfaction.

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    Imagine if Trump poisoned Biden (and I am most definitely not claiming he would, but it is would be an equivalent situation). Would you not expect that to raise an unholy fuss? Russia's govt is behaving, and has been behaving for a while now, like 3rd world thugs. Or to put it different, in terms of realpolitik - if you let behavior like that pass on the international scene, chances go up that you will end up with an actual fight when the thugs just happen to cross over the line to your actual vital national interests - I think 1935,36 and 38 amply provide a lesson to that effect. Sep 2 '20 at 21:14
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Navalny is on the level of Jill Stein, not Joe Biden - he never won a single election in Russia so far Sep 2 '20 at 22:00
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    not really, no. he is the main contender in a system that pretends to have fair elections but has no such thing. that puts him as a Biden equivalent, and your he never won an election is besides the point: how could he get elected to anything if the elections are rigged to start with? before this there was Nemtsov. In any case, this question edges close to asking for internal motivations of political actors. Sep 2 '20 at 22:23
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    Whether he's like Biden or Stein is hardly relevant, but see this question on why Putin cares (NB: Navalny is also a corruption investigator, which leaves many non-presidential actors wanting him dead or incapacitated as well). IMHO Navalny is more like Daphne Galizia.
    – gerrit
    Sep 3 '20 at 7:53

I'm not certain whether this question was intended to be argumentative, or merely ended up that way by misfortune, but either way it demands a somewhat argumentative answer. Apologies in advance...

So, the answer to this question is precisely the same as the answer to the question: "Why should we raise a fuss if a neighbor murders his housemates?" Assume for the moment that the house next door to ours gets rented out to some strange cult, and after a few months we discover that the cult leader occasionally murders one of his followers, for whatever reason: because the follower was disloyal, or disobedient, or wanted to leave, or etc. The murders are not happening in our house, we don't really know any of these people, the cult is careful to bury the bodies properly so there's no 'quality of life' issues on our side of the fence, and you know... Crazy cults are gonna do what crazy cults are gonna do, so there's no helping it. So why not turn back to the TV and raise the volume as needed to cover up the occasional dying scream?

The answer to this question is obvious: if the next-door neighbor is inclined to murder those closest to him when he gets his nose out of joint, what is he likely to do if he gets upset at us? Even worse, if we tolerate the example he sets, how likely is it that someone in our house might start getting ideas about forming a little cult of his or her own? If you and your spouse agree that your neighbor's murderous activities are not worth making a fuss over, and then you hear your spouse muttering under his/her breath about how lousy you do your chores... How comfortably are you going to sleep that night?

A regime that casually kills its own citizens in order to expand and maintain its power would be willing to do anything to the citizens of other nations for the same effect. Allowing such a regime to be successful, further, makes that kind of regime seem attractive, emboldening others who might be inclined to find success that way. Remember, Trump once claimed that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th avenue and get away with it. If he were to do that tomorrow — say he wanted to make the point that he wouldn't put up with any more protests, and thought that personally shooting a Black Lives Matters organizer in public would do the trick — wouldn't you think that people in foreign countries would have a valid fear that someone who did that was in charge of the US arsenal?


However in this instance the poisoning happened on Russian territory to a Russian citizen with no ties to foreign countries, so its unclear why the international community expressed a similar level of dissatisfaction.

It remains to be seen whether the level of dissatisfaction with the Navalny poisoning is indeed similar to the level with the Skripal poisoning, but an important point to understand is that politicians criticise events happening in other countries all the time. The idea that a country can do what it wants on their own territory with no consequences is a myth. Statements, recalling ambassadors, sanctions, all the way to warfare are responses that have happened in history when countries were unhappy with what happened in other countries.

As others have pointed out, it is somewhat speculative to consider why western countries are unhappy that a prominent (opposition) corruption activist in Russia is poisoned, just like how they were unhappy when Caruana Galizia was killed (despite some similarities, there are important differences between the cases). I suspect it's more a matter of principle (it's morally wrong) than the fear of contagion (that the practice may become common in western countries).


If you are aware of an injustice, should you intervene even if it does not affect you directly? For example: let's say your neighbour regularly beats his wife black and blue. Are you morally obliged to call the police?

Although it is "none of your business" as long as your neighbour's domestic violencec doesn't directly affect you, most people will answer yes, you are morally obliged to call the police. Why they answer yes is a question for moral philosophers (although I can think of many explanations, e.g. if one were the victim in domestic violence, one would also hope for others to intervene).

Something similar applies to the Navalny case. If it is true, then something which most people agree is morally wrong has happened, and therefore they are "calling the police".

  • there's no police to call here and there is no higher power to coerce Mr. Wifebeater into better behavior. doubly so in this case due to UN veto. whatever you do you do on your own or with a group of like-minded countries, at your own risk. Sep 3 '20 at 7:23

Some rationale was provided in Raab's statement:

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab offered to work closely with Germany and other allies to “demonstrate that there are consequences for using banned chemical weapons anywhere in the world.” He added that “the Russian government has a clear case to answer.”

So, in that perspective, your question is a bit like asking "why be bothered if Saddam or al-Assad gassed his own citizens?"

There are probably other considerations, but this one was made explicit.

N.B. when you say sanctions are being considered, that's true, but Merkel already ruled out something like cancelling Nord Stream 2 (previous link).

The scope of the response remains unclear. On Friday, she said she wanted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Russia to be completed and rejected any suggestion that it should be used as a bargaining chip to put pressure on Russia. The project is a joint Russian-European economic venture and linking it to the Navalny case “isn’t appropriate,” she said.

So in this view, the sanctions will probably not be entirely negligible as not to be laughable, but also probably not a new cold war. See related question on German business in Russia growing despite Crimea-related sanctions.

  • Gassing thousands of citizens is a much bigger crime than (allegedly) poisoning. Sep 3 '20 at 15:06
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    @JonathanReez: believe it or not Trump was forced to sanction Russia because the attack on the Skripals involved a chemical weapon. Had the Russians strangled or shot the Skripals, Trump would not have been under the same legal pressure. So means matter, even if used against one person.
    – Fizz
    Sep 3 '20 at 15:14

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