President Joe Biden has called Vladimir Putin a “killer” and reportedly told him to his face that he didn’t have a soul. The Russian president is believed to have backed smear campaigns against Biden during his run for the White House. But the two leaders appeared to mostly hold tensions at bay during their highly anticipated joint summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday. This is the first meeting Putin has had with a U.S. leader since his 2018 summit with Donald Trump in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump backed Russia’s denials of election interference over the U.S. intelligence community.
Biden and Putin shook hands in front of cameras and then met in closed-door meetings that lasted nearly three and a half hours. After the summit’s end, the two leaders addressed the media in separate press conferences, with Putin going first. The Russian president called the conversation “constructive” and said that Biden was an “experienced statesman.” He also noted that Biden did not invite him to the White House, and he didn’t extend an invitation to Moscow to Biden.
The subject of cybersecurity came up in their discussions amid the recent rise in ransomware attacks, with many appearing to originate from Russia. The AP reports that Putin seemed to push back against the claim that many attacks are based in his country, saying “most of the cyberattacks in the world are carried out from the cyber realm of the United States.” He also referenced the United Kingdom, Canada, and two Latin American countries that he did not name. “We believe that cybersecurity is important for the world in general, for the U.S. in particular, and for Russia as well,” Putin said.
At one point, Putin was asked about the number of his critics and opponents who have ended up in prison or found dead. In his response, he invoked the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol, saying through an interpreter, “As for who is killing whom and throwing whom in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands. Over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them. They face prison sentences of up to 20, maybe even 25 years. They’re being called domestic terrorists.”
He said one person was killed by police “although they were not threatening the police with any weapons,” appearing to make reference to Ashli Babbitt. “I’d like to stress once more that we sympathize with what happened in the United States, but we have no desire to allow the same thing to happen in our country.”
During his press conference, Biden said the two of them spoke at length about ransomware attacks, and he raised the idea to Putin that certain “critical infrastructure” should be off limits. Biden said he named 16 specific areas, including U.S. water systems and the energy sector. “Of course, the principle is one thing. It has to be backed up by practice. Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activities on their territory,” Biden said.
The American president said he raised concerns about human-rights violations to Putin, saying any leader of the United States would have to “speak out to defend our democratic values.” Biden was asked about Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and Putin critic who was recently jailed after an an apparent assassination attempt by the Kremlin, and what might happen if Navalny were to die while imprisoned. Biden hinted at possible economic repercussions if the country were to flout “international norms,” saying, “I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.”