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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

Jun 14, 2021 - World

Putin denies Russia is behind cyberattacks ahead of Biden summit

In an exclusive interview with NBC's "Today," Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia is waging cyber warfare against the United States and refused to guarantee opposition leader Alexei Navalny — whose name he would not say — will leave prison alive.

Why it matters: Cyberattacks by Russian intelligence and Russian-speaking criminal groups, as well as the Kremlin's attempted assassination and jailing of Navalny, are among the topics President Biden is expected to raise at his Geneva summit with Putin on Wednesday.

Jun 13, 2021 - World

G7 leaders warn Russia on cyberattacks, chemical weapons usage

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Sergei Ilyin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

The Group of Seven leaders ended their summit on Sunday by demanding that Russia take action and investigate the use of chemical weapons within its territory and hold accountable those behind ransomware attacks and other cyber crimes.

Why it matters: The allied language come as all eyes turn to President Biden's Wednesday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

Jun 14, 2021 - World

Biden at NATO summit: Collective defense is "sacred obligation"

President Joe Biden is greeted by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO summit. Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden reaffirmed the United States' commitment to NATO during a sit-down with Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the president's first meeting at NATO's 2021 summit in Brussels.

Why it matters: Biden has used his first international trip as president to reassure allies that his administration is committed to multilateralism and to NATO's Article 5, which stipulates that the entire alliance will respond to an attack on any member nation.