In an interview aired on Wednesday (17 March), US President Joe Biden said his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is “a killer” and warned that he will soon face consequences for directing efforts to swing the 2020 US presidential election in Donald Trump’s favour.
“He will pay a price,” Biden told ABC News in the interview. Asked when those consequences would come, he said: “You’ll see shortly.”
His comments come after a US intelligence report on Tuesday bolstered longstanding allegations that Putin was behind Moscow’s election interference, an accusation Russia dismissed as baseless.
At the same time, Biden noted that “there are places where it’s in our mutual interest to work together” such as renewing the START nuclear agreement, adding that the two leaders have a known history.
“I know him relatively well,” Biden said, adding that “the most important thing dealing with foreign leaders in my experience … is just to know the other guy.”
Asked if he thought Putin was a killer, he told ABC: “I do.”
When Biden, as Vice President to Barack Obama, met Putin in 2011, the moment signalled a “reset” of relations and even visa-free travel was on the agenda.
But US-Russia relations have deteriorated since then, not only as a result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 but also against the backdrop of a series of attempted murders blamed on the Kremlin.
Those include reformist politician and Putin’s critic Boris Nemtsov in 2015, and the former Russian secret agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, murdered in 2018, as well as the less known case of Denis Voronenkov, killed outside a hotel in Kyiv in 2017, who had fled to Ukraine and was a key witness in a treason case against former President Viktor Yanukovich.
The most recent example is the attempted murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny at Tomsk airport in August 2020. Russia has denied any such wrongdoing.
Although Russia has never admitted any involvement in the murders, its reactions were often ambiguous. Putin himself has said, jokingly, that Russia could have killed Navalny had it wanted to.
In the more distant past, the murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, of former KGB officer Sergei Litvinenko in 2006, and of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 also need to be mentioned.
A telephone prank pulled off by Navalny in cooperation with Bellingcat in December, which tricked a Russian secret agent into disclosing details of the botched plot to kill the Kremlin critic, brought the West closer than ever to finding the “smoking gun” of official Russian involvement in murders or murder attempts.
In some other cases, it is not impossible to imagine that the murders may have been perpetrated by fringe groups or even internal enemies of Putin who want to discredit him to the West. What remains certain is that Putin’s Kremlin does not exclude political murders from its working methods.
As former US ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder recently wrote, Biden has tasked the US intelligence community with assessing four of the most egregious allegations of Russian behavior: interference in the 2020 elections, paying bounties for the killing of US troops in Afghanistan, the poisoning of Navalny and the Solar Winds hack of cyber networks.
These assessments, Biden made clear, will provide the basis for determining the best response.
According to Daalder, with Russia, Biden seems determined to return to an approach that worked during the Cold War.
“He will engage Moscow whenever it is in the US interest to do so — as it is on arms control, climate change, nonproliferation and other issues where Washington and Moscow may see eye-to-eye.”
“But he will also oppose Russia whenever it engages in activities, at home or abroad, that threaten US interests or core American values and exact a big price when it does,”, the former diplomat wrote.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]