President Joe Biden on Monday called Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘worthy adversary’ ahead of their summit in Geneva – and declined to label him a ‘killer’ when asked to repeat a label he accepted in the past.
Biden said in Brussels that allied leaders do not consider his summit meeting with Putin any kind of reward – and that fellow heads of state have thanked him for sitting down with the strongman.
Speaking to reporters after a day of meetings with NATO alliance members, Biden said leaders were on board with his decision to sit down with the head of a nation he variously called an adversary or a potential one.
He has been making a point of soliciting their views on what he should say when he finally gets together with Putin, who has confounded numerous U.S. presidents and with whom he has met before, Wednesday.
‘They thanked me for being willing to talk with them about the meeting,’ Biden said, fielding a handful of questions after making reporters wait two hours for a delayed press conference.
‘I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas we can cooperate if he chooses,’ Biden said in Brussels
He said there was consensus among ‘Every single one that spoke.’ They thanked him ‘for meeting with Putin now.’ He said fellow leaders thought it was ‘throughly appropriate’ that he do so. Biden rejected the supposition of a question that it was a reward for Putin to meet him so early in his term.
‘I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas we can cooperate if he chooses,’ Biden said.
‘If he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past,’ Biden said, ‘then we will respond. We will respond in kind.’
But he offered a caveat. ‘There need not be. We should decide where it’s in our mutual interests and the interests of the world to cooperate,’ he said.
Biden also took a question over what it would mean if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were to die in prison, having been sentenced after a poison attempt on his life with a nerve agent.
‘Navalny’s death would e another indication of Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world in my view. And with me.’
Biden’s musings came during back-and-forth where he once again selected reporters to call on from a list written on a white card that he carried with him.
Several of the questions were about Putin. Another dealt with Ukraine, and whether the nation fighting a war with Russia would never get into the alliance due to that status.
Biden said that wasn’t the case, but that Ukraine had to meet criteria spelled out for membership.
When asked if he would repeat his assertion that Putin was a ‘killer’ – a notion Putin laughed at in a recent interview – Biden chose not to repeat the charge that caused an uproar early in his term.
Rather than use an incendiary label two days before their meeting, Biden came up with a word salad response.
‘The answer is, I believe he has in the past, essentially, acknowledged that he was, or certain things, that he would do or did do.’
Biden was reluctant to divulge more of what he would say to Putin.
Biden fielded questions from reporters at a brief press conference that started two hours late. Numerous questions were about his upcoming Putin summit
President Joe Biden touches a piece of steel from the North Tower of the World Trade Center while visiting a memorial to the September 11 terrorist attacks at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, June 14, 2021
Biden noted now NATO nations rallied to the defense of the U.S. after Sept. 11th. Leaders are discussing how to stay involved in Afghanistan after the removal of troops
Biden took a questions from several reporters, reading from a list of pre-printed names. A reporter for the French wire service AFP asked if Ukraine would make it into NATO given that Russia had already annexed some of its territory
‘I’ve been doing this a long time. The last thing anyone would do is negotiate in front of the world press as to how you’re going to approach a critical meeting with another adversary and/or someone who could be an adversary,’ Biden said.
‘But I will tell you this: I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses. And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.’
‘We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest and the interest of the world to cooperate, and see if we could do that,’ he said.
He said of Putin: ‘He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is, as they say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.’
Biden, on his way out of NATO headquarters, stopped to visit the 9/11 memorial, a piece of the World Trade Center, that sits on the lawn outside the main building.
He walked out alone to see the monument to the biggest terrorist attack in American history. He read the plaque and then stepped up to the piece of steel from the WTC, touched it briefly as the sun set behind him, and then stepped back in front of the plaque to gather his thoughts.
The visit was part of Biden’s effort to reaffirm America’s commitment to Article 5 of the NATO charter. Donald Trump refused to reaffirm Article 5 – which says when one member of the alliance is attacked, it is treated as if all members were attacked.
Biden, during his time at NATO, pointed out repeatedly that NATO invoked Article 5 on the behalf of the United States in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
‘Remember what happened on 9/11. We were attacked. NATO immediately supported us,’ he said.
Biden spoke hours after Putin continued to try to pick apart U.S. claims on a media tour in advance of his summit with President Biden – denying in an interview airing Monday that Russia engaged in cyber attacks and saying there was no proof it interfered in U.S. elections.
‘Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,’ Putin said in a sit-down interview with NBC’s Keir Simmons in Moscow.
‘We have been accused of all kinds of things – election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth – and not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations,’ he told the network’s Kier Simmons.
‘I’m surprised that we have not yet been accused of – provoking the Black Lives Matter movement. That would have been a good line of attack. But …’ Putin said, ridiculing the attack.
Then he waded further into U.S. domestic politics, saying: ‘We have always treated with understanding the fight of African Americans for their rights,’ but said he couldn’t approve of any ‘extreme’ actions associated with the movement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with NBC sharply dismissed allegations that his country is carrying out cyberattacks against the United States as baseless
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team issued detailed indictments for Russian intelligence operatives accused of 2016 election interference. But Russia didn’t hand over the alleged hackers, and they have not stood trial.
The U.S. government has said Russia may be housing cyber hackers who carried out the ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline, but has not said it was a government operation.
U.S. intelligence does assess that Russia interfered in the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Putin’s comments come as Biden kicked off the NATO summit in Brussels by saying Russia and China had not acted ‘in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped.’
Putin once again sought to deflect U.S. pressure to respect opposition groups by bringing up the arrest of hundreds who took part in the Capitol riot in Washington
Biden kicked off the NATO summit in Brussels by saying Russia and China had not acted ‘in a way that is consistent with what we had hoped’
Former President Donald Trump (L) chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017
Putin denied Russia was behind ransomware hacking like the attack on Colonial Pipeline
Putin once again brought up Capitol rioters when pressed on Russia’s treatment of the political opposition
Vladimir Putin could be open to prisoner swap for jailed Americans Paul Whelan and ‘troublemaker’ Trevor Reed
Putin could be open to a prisoner swap to free Americans Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan
Putin also discussed the fate of two Americans held in Russia, Trevor Reed, a former Marine sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly punching a Russian police officer, and Paul Whelan.
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of spying. ‘This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms,’ U.S. ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan said following Whelan’s conviction.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “outraged” over the ‘secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.” Whelan, who also holds passports from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Ireland, denied the espionage charges.
His lawyer said following his arrest at a Moscow hotel in late 2019 that Whelan had been given a flash drive containing ‘state secrets’ that someone handed him, but that he had not opened it or looked at its contents. He was expecting it to contain personal information.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said President Biden would raise both cases when he meets with Putin, having already said he will be direct with the Russian leader.
Putin indicated he was open to a potential prisoner swap, according to NBC. He called Reed was a ‘troublemaker,’ referring to him a ‘drunk’ who ‘got himself s**t-faced and started a fight.”
Reed is an executive from Michigan. He and his family as well as his Russian girlfriend have denied the charges. Sullivan said following his conviction last year: ‘This is not a good story for U.S.-Russia relations. And it is not good for encouraging U.S. private citizens and business to visit and invest here if what they did to [Reed] can be done to anyone,’ NBC reported at the time.
Putin once again sought to undermine a U.S. push the Kremlin to respect press freedoms and allow a sphere for political opponents to exist – by bringing up U.S. prosecution of rioters who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6th.
Putin, who is to meet President Joe Biden at a summit Wednesday, has suggested that the hundreds of people arrested for rioting at the U.S. Capitol are being subjected to ‘persecution for political opinions.’
Charging documents reveal many of those who have been arrested were carrying sticks and poles, attacked police officers, or broke through windows to enter the seat of legislative power.
‘We have a saying: “Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly,”‘ Putin said.
‘It has nothing to do with you personally. But if somebody blames us for something, what I say is, why don’t you look at yourselves? You will see yourselves in the mirror, not us.’
Putin is likely to come under strong criticism from Biden at their meeting in Geneva for moves against his political opponents in Russia, particularly the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the detention of thousands of demonstrators protesting his arrest, and the outlawing of Navalny´s organizations as extremist.
Anticipating that Biden will raise issues of human rights and the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Putin said: ‘You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia. We view it completely differently.’
He then pointed to the Jan. 6 unrest in Washington when protesters barged into the Capitol to try to halt the count of electoral votes to certify Biden´s election victory over Donald Trump.
‘Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? … They came there with political demands,’ he said.
Putin also reiterated denials that the Kremlin was behind last year’s poisoning of Navalny with a nerve agent that nearly killed him.
‘We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,’ Putin said.
‘Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?’ Putin said, referring to Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a window that led to the House floor.
In April, the United States announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and new sanctions connected to the so-called SolarWinds cyberattack in which several U.S. government branches experienced data breaches. U.S. officials blamed the Russian foreign intelligence service.
In May, Microsoft officials said the foreign intelligence service appeared to be linked to an attack on a company providing services to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The two men shared an awkward fist bump ahead of their private sit down, where President Erdogan will tell Biden his disappointment that the US recognized Armenian genocide
President Joe Biden greets Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) speaks with President Joe Biden (R) next to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a plenary session at a NATO summit in Brussels