Jun 14, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Putin, Biden talk tough ahead of summit

Vladimir Putin speaks to NBC's Keir Simmons in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin speaks to NBC's Keir Simmons in Moscow. Photo: Maxim Blinov/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Sending a bearish signal for Wednesday's summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an aggressive preview interview to NBC News, denying cyber-hacking and portraying suspects in the Capitol riot as political prisoners.

Why it matters: This is looking like the rare head of state sit-down where no amount of diplomatic fluff can paper over the gulf between the two countries.

Zoom out: Both President Biden and Putin say U.S.-Russia relations are at their worst levels in years.

  • In a measure of White House caution, Biden plans a solo news conference after the Geneva meeting, rather than a joint appearance with Putin.

Biden, at a press conference on Monday at the NATO summit in Brussels, said Putin is "bright, he's tough, and I have found that he is ... a worthy adversary."

  • But Biden said that if the Russian "chooses not to cooperate, and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities ... we will respond in kind."

Putin, who sat down with NBC's Keir Simmons in Moscow, made a string of antagonistic assertions.

  • On ransomware attacks: "[W]here is the evidence? Where is proof? ... Russia has nothing to do with it."
  • Putin refused to guarantee that opposition leader Alexei Navalny would leave prison alive: "[T]hat is something that the administration of the specific prison or penitentiary establishment is responsible for."
  • When the reporter noted that Putin wasn't saying Navalny's name, the president responded: "For me, he [is] one of the citizens of the Russian Federation who has been found guilty by a court of law and is in prison. There are many citizens like that."
  • On the Capitol insurrectionists: "[T]hey're looking at jail time ... And they came to the Congress with political demands. Isn't that persecution for political opinions?"
Go deeper