Putin Sees Chance to Work With Biden at Low Point in Ties

Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, speaks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate in a video screenshot. (Source: White House/Bloomberg)

Putin Sees Chance to Work With Biden at Low Point in Ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that in spite of heightened tensions with the U.S. over cyberattacks and his treatment of dissidents, he may be able to work with President Joe Biden in part because he’s more predictable than Donald Trump.

“That’s a different kind of person and it is my great hope that, yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements, on behalf of the sitting U.S. president,” Putin said in an interview with NBC News conducted in Moscow before the two leaders’ first meeting since Biden took office in January.

Putin offered praise of Trump, whom he described as “an extraordinary individual, talented individual, otherwise he would not have become U.S. president.” Trump, he added, “is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. And, but he didn’t come from the U.S. establishment, he had not been part of big time politics before, and some like it some don’t like it but that is a fact.”

The Russian leader described Biden, by contrast, as a “career man” who “has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics.”

Biden and Putin will meet in Geneva on June 16, following the American president’s gatherings with G-7, NATO and European Union allies. The summit with the Russian leader is expected to be tense, as Washington and Moscow are at odds over a range of issues, including cybersecurity, Ukraine and the Kremlin’s persecution of Putin’s political opponents.

Biden will hold a solo press conference after his meeting with Putin, a U.S. official said on Saturday, making it clear there won’t be a joint event with both leaders. Current plans include a larger working session with the U.S. and Russian delegations, as well as a smaller session afterwards that includes Biden and Putin, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pressed in the interview about his adversaries who have been killed over the years -- and about Biden’s suggestion earlier this year that Putin is a “killer” -- the Russian leader was defensive. “Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext, and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness and none of it surprises me,” he said, adding that being called a “killer” was a sign of “Hollywood macho” from Americans including Biden and John McCain, the late Arizona senator.

Biden said his goal is to establish “a stable, predictable relationship” with the U.S. adversary. He said he’s “not seeking conflict with Russia” but added that “the United States would respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities.”

When given the specific names of opponents who’ve been killed, Putin chuckled, then called them “many individuals who indeed suffered and perished at different points in time for various reasons, at the hands of different individuals.”

Ahead of Biden’s departure for Europe, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that Biden would head into the encounter with Putin “with the wind at his back” after conferring with U.S. allies in summits beforehand. The meeting is not “a reward” for the Russian president but a way for Biden to advocate for U.S. interests and values, Sullivan said at a June 7 press briefing.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Friday that the primary reason Putin is attending the summit is because of the “the poor state of the relationship between our two countries” and that the session may be the only way “to prevent further degradation of our dialogue.”

Issues on the U.S. agenda include recent ransomware and other cyberattacks originating from within Russia. While the Kremlin has not been implicated in recent ransomware attacks against Colonial Pipeline Co. and the meat producer JBS Foods International, U.S. officials have traced the acts to Russia-linked groups.

Biden believes Putin and his government have “a role to play in stopping and preventing these attacks,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month.

Other issues for discussion during the meeting are Ukraine, Belarus, election interference and human rights, including the treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. A Russian court on Wednesday banned two organizations linked to the Kremlin critic, calling them “extremist” groups, swiftly drawing criticism from the U.S. and U.K.

Peskov told CNN that Putin does not intend to discuss Navalny’s case with Biden. “There is nothing to discuss about this gentleman. He’s in prison, and he is not a subject for the agenda of our bilateral relations,” he said.

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