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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

Updated Sep 21, 2021 - World

Russia to blame for Litvinenko's killing, European court rules

The grave of Alexander Litvinenko at Highgate Cemetery in London. Photo: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Russia "was responsible for the assassination of Aleksandr Litvinenko" in London.

Why it matters: Former KGB officer Litvinenko, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in 2006 after being poisoned in London with Polonium 210, a rare radioactive isotope. Russia has always denied any involvement in his death.

Sep 20, 2021 - World

Shooting at Russian university leaves at least 6 dead, 28 injured

Women react as students evacuate a building at Perm State University in Russia on Sept. 20, 2021, following the shooting. Photo: Olga Yushkova/AFP via Getty Images

At least six people were killed and 28 were wounded after a gunman opened fire at Russia's Perm State University on Monday, investigators said.

Driving the news: The Investigative Committee of Russia identified the shooter as a student but has not released a name. The committee said the suspect was injured while resisting arrest and was taken to a "medical institution."

Sep 21, 2021 - World

U.K. prosecutors charge third person in poisoning of former Russian spy

Emergency services members in biohazard encapsulated suits work at the poisoning scene in Salisbury, England, in March 2018. Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

U.K. prosecutors said they had enough evidence to charge Denis Sergeev, a member of the Russian military intelligence service, in the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy, according to AP.

Why it matters: Sergeev is the third person to face charges for the nerve agent attack against Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, both of whom survived.