On Wednesday, President Biden will hold a solo press conference following his summit in Switzerland with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reporter Mike Memoli discusses Biden's remarks about U.S.-Russian relations ahead of the meeting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denied ordering a hit on political rival Alexei Navalny, but in an exclusive interview with NBC News he did not guarantee that the jailed Kremlin critic, who survived being poisoned with a nerve agent, would get out of prison alive.
"Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president," Putin said.
That was one of several striking moments in Putin's first interview in three years with a U.S. news organization, days ahead of his meeting with President Joe Biden in Geneva.
Reminded that Navalny wasn't just any prisoner, Putin replied: "He will not be treated any worse than anybody else."
Putin spoke for nearly an hour and a half as Biden met with the leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations, from which Russia was suspended in 2014 after it annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their worst in decades, badly frayed by a string of cyberattacks linked to Moscow, as well as a long list of old grievances — chief among them being Russia's meddling in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections. On Sunday, Biden said he agreed with Putin’s assessment that U.S.-Russia relations had reached a low point.
Image: Vladimir Putin during an interview with Keir Simmons Putin showed flashes of defiance when he was asked whether it was a "coincidence" that several other political rivals had been assassinated in recent years.NBC News Putin said the U.S. allegations that Russian hackers or the government itself were behind cyberattacks in the U.S. were "farcical," and he challenged NBC News, and by implication the U.S. government, to produce proof that Russians were involved.
"We have been accused of all kinds of things," he said. "Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations."
As recently as April, Biden blacklisted six Russian technology companies that provide support to the cyber program run by Putin's intelligence services, along with dozens of other Russian entities and individuals, for "carrying out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and other acts of disinformation and interference."
Putin also repeated the call for the U.S. and Russia to join forces to fight cybercrime, saying, "It is our great hope that we will be able to set up this process with our U.S. partners."
He proposed a cyber reboot with Washington last year when Donald Trump was still president, but some in the U.S. dismissed his efforts as disingenuous.
Throughout the interview, Putin relied on the Kremlin's time-tested strategy of deflecting criticism by pointing out America's failures, suggesting that criticism from the West was hypocritical because every country, including Russia and the U.S., acts in its own self-interest.
The looming summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin—set to take place in Geneva on Wednesday—has unleashed a flurry of threats from the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, and a promise of staunch resistance to American demands on everything from cyber attacks to human rights abuses.
It has also triggered another bizarre press strategy: The debut and glorification of an infamous Capitol rioter on Russian airwaves.
On Sunday, Russian state TV aired an interview with insurrectionist Richard Barnett—notoriously pictured with his feet up on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office on Jan. 6—and his attorney, Joseph McBride.
Barnett, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, was introduced as a “colorful” individual, the same expression Putin frequently uses to describe Trump. McBride welcomed Rossiya-1 special correspondent Valentin Bogdanov into his office and FaceTimed his client, who appeared cheerful and at ease at his Arkansas ranch, flashing a big smile and showing off his car collection.
Bogdanov introduced Barnett, who was arrested following the Capitol raid and subsequently released pending trial, as “an American patriot” who protested against “the stolen election.” The network showcased clips from his exploits at the Capitol, where he wielded a stun-gun, stole mail from Pelosi’s office, and left a threatening note for the House Speaker.
Seemingly unaware of Russia’s notorious prison system, Barnett complained about the conditions of his brief imprisonment, alleged beatings of other “patriots” with whom he was detained, and threats he had received since his arrest.
“The trial is still ahead, there is no verdict, but retribution is already taking place,” the Russian correspondent said, referring to Barnett’s activities at the Capitol. Bogdanov asked him, “Would you do it again?” McBride quickly jumped in and urged his client not to answer the question until the legal proceedings were over.
Barnett replied, “I exercise my First Amendment rights every hour, every minute, and every day, and I will never stop.” Bogdanov concluded, “Everyone arrested in the January 6 case feels that way.”
Russian state media have consistently claimed that the Capitol rioters were arrested merely for supporting Trump. Speaking at a business forum in St. Petersburg on June 4, Vladimir Putin made clear his intent to rebuff Biden’s concerns about human rights in Russia by labeling prosecutions of the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol as unjust. On Friday, Putin told NBC that their arrests were nothing other than “persecution for political opinions.”
The glorification of the Jan. 6 rioters is just one of several tactics Kremlin loyalists are using to disparage the U.S. in the lead-up to the summit.
Repeatedly citing Fox News talking points to corroborate their narrative, state TV hosts and experts spoke of Putin as a smarter, stronger, younger leader, who is in every way superior to Biden. This remarkable alignment led Alexei Naumov from the Russian International Affairs Council to conclude last Tuesday that, “For Republicans, Vladimir Putin is more of an ally than Biden. This is a death sentence for America’s leadership and its foreign policy.”
Last week, former President Donald Trump echoed Kremlin TV talking points by telling Biden “not to fall asleep” during his summit with Putin. Trump’s unusual affinity towards the Russian president had failed to compensate for his inability to move forward with tentative agreements reached by the two leaders at the Helsinki summit, which frustrated Kremlin-funded talking heads. While the former U.S. president had described his get-together with Putin as “a great and very productive meeting in Helsinki,” Russian experts and lawmakers disagreed.
Discussing the upcoming summit in Geneva last Sunday, notorious Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov listed some of the “things Putin doesn’t like,” including his impatience for people who don’t keep their promises. Kiselyov praised the Russian president for his willingness to meet even with “difficult” characters like Trump but added that Putin “lost his interest” once he realized that Trump’s words rang hollow and his promises turned out to be empty.
This month, host of the state TV program 60 Minutes Evgeny Popov exclaimed, “I hope that our top officials have a plan, especially in light of an atrociously futile meeting with Trump. If Putin is going to see Biden, I hope that something will get signed.”
One item of continued interest to the Kremlin is an agreement on cybersecurity, championed by the Russians since the early 2000s. In 2017 and 2018, Putin proposed a joint Russian-American “Cybersecurity Unit,” an idea that was enthusiastically promoted by Trump until it prompted bipartisan backlash and was shot down by American national security officials.
On Friday, in his interview with MSNBC’s Keir Simmons, Putin claimed that U.S. allegations that Russian hackers were responsible for a series of cyberattacks in the U.S. were "farcical," but nonetheless insisted that he wants Biden to enter into an agreement with Russia on cyberspace.
Forming a joint task force with America’s adversary could provide the Kremlin with an inside look at U.S. methods and technologies used to investigate Russia’s attacks, and the Kremlin could continue its cyber offensive through proxies and deny accountability. Even the symbolic signing of such an agreement would create a false impression of Russia’s cooperation with the U.S., positioning it as a peer as opposed to a malevolent foe. While the Kremlin repeatedly denies official ties to various acts of aggression in cyberspace, it actively interferes with U.S. efforts to extradite Russian hackers.
Exclusive Interview With Russian President Vladimir Putin | Full Interview
In an NBC News worldwide exclusive, senior international correspondent Keir Simmons sits down with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow for a one-on-one interview, just days ahead of a critical summit with President Biden.