The Kremlin has reacted angrily to US President Joe Biden’s remarks that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is “a killer,” calling the comment unprecedented and describing the relationship between the two countries as “very bad.”
Putin on Thursday nevertheless invited Biden to hold open online talks in the wake of the remarks.
In an interview with ABC that aired Wednesday, Biden said Putin “will pay a price” for his efforts to undermine the 2020 US election following a landmark American intelligence assessment that found the Russian government meddled in the 2020 election with the aim of “denigrating” Biden’s candidacy.
When interviewer George Stephanopoulos asked Biden if he thought Putin was “a killer,” the President said, “Mhmm. I do.”
Responding to the comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday that “there hasn’t been anything like this in history.”
He said it was clear that Biden “definitely does not want to improve relations” with Russia and that the relationship between the two countries is “very bad.” When asked how it can affect relations, Peskov said “it is absolutely clear how,” but refused to elaborate.
“These are very bad statements by the President of the United States. He definitely does not want to improve relations with us, and we will continue to proceed from this,” Peskov said.
Putin himself responded Thursday saying, “I would like to offer President Biden [the opportunity] to continue our discussion, but on condition that we’ll do so what is called live, online. Without anything pre-recorded, in an open and direct discussion.”
“It seems to me, it would be interesting both for Russian people and for the US people, as well as for many other countries,” Putin added.
Russia state media TASS reported Putin has invited Biden to hold the discussion on Friday or Monday.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki weighed in on the invitation saying she wasn’t sure if the call would be something the administration would entertain.
“I’ll have to get back to you if that is something we’re entertaining. I would say that the President already had a conversation already with President Putin, even as there are more world leaders that he has not yet engaged with,” Psaki said during a press briefing. And we engage with Russian leaders, members of the government, at all levels. But I don’t have anything to report to you in terms of a future meeting.”
The Russian leader previously reacted to the comments by wishing Biden “good health” at a news conference.
“It’s true, we really know each other personally. What would I answer him? I would tell him: be healthy,” Putin said. “I wish him good health. I say this without irony, no jokes. This is first of all.”
“When we evaluate other people, states and nations, we always seem to be looking in the mirror. We always see ourselves. We always pass on to another person what we ourselves are in essence,” Putin added.
“In childhood, when we argued with each other, we said: ‘He who calls names is called that himself.’ This is no coincidence, this is not just a childish joke, it has a very deep psychological meaning.”
Psaki said earlier Thursday Biden had no regrets about his comments saying, “Nope. The President gave a direct answer to a direct question.”
When pressed on whether the “killer” language was constructive for the US-Russia relationship, Psaki declined to say.
“President Biden has known President Putin for a long time, they’ve both been on the global stage for a long time worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia. And he believes we can continue to do that,” she said.
The US, Psaki said, is confident it can work with Russia on areas of “mutual national interests,” however, “The President is not going to hold back, clearly, when he has concerns, whether it is with words or actions.”
When asked if the President’s remarks might further escalate tensions with Moscow, Psaki noted that Amb. John Sullivan “remains in Moscow” and is “engaged.”
“We continue to believe that diplomacy is the first step and should always be the first step, should be our objective, as we pursue all relationships – even with our adversaries,” she said.
Russia pulled its US ambassador on Wednesday in response to the comments with Peskov revealing the diplomat, Anatoly Antonov, had been “invited” back to Moscow to discuss Russia-US relations.
Peskov said there are currently no plans for Putin to meet with Antonov, but if necessary Putin will have a discussion with him.
In the interview, Biden also claimed he told Putin in 2011 he didn’t think Putin had a soul. Putin’s response, Biden recalls, was to say, “We understand one another.”
“Look, most important thing dealing with foreign leaders, and I’ve dealt with a lot of them over my career, is just know the other guy,” Biden told ABC.
The US intelligence community said in its Tuesday report that the Russian government meddled in the 2020 election with an influence campaign “denigrating” President Joe Biden and “supporting” former President Donald Trump, detailing a massive disinformation push that successfully targeted, and was openly embraced, by Trump’s allies.
The report is the most comprehensive assessment of foreign threats to the 2020 elections to date, detailing extensive influence operations by US adversaries that sought to undermine confidence in the democratic process, in addition to targeting specific presidential candidates.
The President wouldn’t provide more details to ABC on what “price” Putin will pay, but the Biden administration is expected to announce sanctions related to election interference as soon as next week, three US State Department officials have told CNN. The officials did not disclose any details related to the expected sanctions but said they will target multiple countries including Russia, China and Iran.
CNN’s Anna Chernova, Zahra Ullah reported from Moscow, Betsy Klein and Maegan Vazquez reported from Washington and Rob Picheta wrote in London.