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Putin quips that Biden comments reflect US' own issues

March 18, 2021

President Vladimir Putin has brushed aside comments by US President Joe Biden, who said he thought the Russian leader was a killer. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested that Biden's frankness was understandable.

The Russian Federation flag flies in front of its embassy in Washington, DC
Image: Getty Images/C. Somodevilla

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said he thought Joe Biden's comments about him mirrored the United States' own past and current problems. 

Russia has ordered its US ambassador to return to Moscow after Biden agreed with the notion that his Russian counterpart was a killer. Biden also said that Putin would face retaliation for election interference.

What did Putin and the Kremlin say?

When asked to comment on Biden's remarks, Putin responded that there was "deep psychological meaning in it."

"We always see in another person our own qualities and think that they are the same as us," Putin said in televised remarks.

The Russian leader proposed that Biden's comments were related to the US's own history of slaughtering Native Americans and slavery — and even linked them to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Putin said Moscow would not sever ties with Washington over the matter, but that it would work with the United States on terms "beneficial" to Russia.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Biden's comments as "very bad." Peskov said it showed Biden had no interest in improving Washington's strained ties with Moscow.

"It is clear that he does not want to get the relationship with our country back on track, and we will proceed from that."

Russia's foreign ministry said it had summoned its envoy home to discuss a response. "The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, has been invited to come to Moscow for consultations conducted with the aim of analyzing what should be done and where to go in the context of ties with the United States," the ministry said.

What exactly did Joe Biden say?

In an ABC news interview, Joe Biden said "I do" when asked if he believed Putin — who some accuse of ordering the assassinations of his political opponents — was a killer.

Biden also responded to questions about a US intelligence report that Putin tried to harm his candidacy in the November 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump's.

"He will pay a price," said 78-year-old Biden. "You'll see shortly."

The US has not yet withdrawn its ambassador to Moscow. A State Department spokeswoman told the AFP news agency that the US envoy would remain in Moscow in the hopes of maintaining "open channels of communication."

'Very clear language' unsurprising

In an interview with DW, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas refused to comment on or evaluate US President Joe Biden's opinion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a "killer."

However, he did stress that it can be assumed that the US would use "very clear language" to address problems in the relationship with Russia.

What has been the reaction in Russia?

DW's Moscow correspondent Emily Sherwin said Biden's words had made big news in Russia.

"Politicians here in Russia have been calling these statements from Biden hysterical, unpresidential — a provocation. You have to understand that this is a personal insult against Vladimir Putin in a country where, essentially, Putin is considered almost untouchable on the political landscape. Even his critics usually level their accusations more generally at the Kremlin or at the government," Sherwin said.

The deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's upper house, Konstantin Kosachyov, said Biden's comments ended hopes of a change in US policy towards Russia under the new administration.

He said more action might follow, but the recall of the Russian ambassador was a reasonable step.

"I suspect it will not be the last one if no explanation or apology follows from the American side," Kosachyov said in a Facebook post.

State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin wrote on his Telegram channel that attacks on Putin were "attacks on our country."

"Biden insulted the citizens of our country with his statement," he said.

Worst relations in decades

US intelligence reports say that Putin and other senior officials "were aware of and probably directed" Russia's operation to sway the 2020 presidential vote in Trump's favor. After Biden's win over Trump, Putin was among the last world leaders to congratulate him. Tensions have escalated in recent months between the former Cold War rivals over hacking allegations and the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

Navalny went back to Russia in January after he was treated in Germany for poisoning, apparently with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Hundreds of Russians and diplomats of Western countries last month marked the sixth anniversary of the assassination of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. Nemtsov was among Putin's loudest critics until he was shot and killed on bridge near the Kremlin in 2015.

rc/rt (AFP, Reuters)