Biden walks back Putin remark, calls him ‘worthy adversary’


President Biden on Monday downplayed his previous description of Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a killer” — calling him “bright,” “tough” and a “worthy adversary” ahead of their upcoming summit meeting.

During a news conference at the annual NATO meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Biden said he answered “honestly” last year when he said, “I do” in response to a question about whether he thought the former KGB agent was “a killer.”

“I believe he has, in the past, essentially acknowledged that he was — that there were certain things that he would do or did do,” Biden said Monday.

“But it’s not — I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have.”

Biden, who kept reporters waiting more than 90 minutes past the scheduled start of his briefing, also said of Putin, “I have met with him. He’s bright, he’s tough.”

“And I have found that he is a — as they say when we used to play ball — a worthy adversary,” he added.

Biden also said that “every world leader here as a member of NATO, that spoke today….thanked me for meeting with Putin.”

“There were probably about 10 or 12 that spoke to it, saying they were happy that I did that, and I was going to do that,” he said.”And they thought it was thoroughly appropriate that I do.”Biden also claimed that “I haven’t found a world leader” who thinks he’ll be meeting with Putin “too soon.””So there is a consensus. And they thanked me for being willing to talk with them about the meeting,” he said.

When asked about the fate of imprisoned Russian dissident Alexei Navalny — whose safety Putin has refused to guarantee — Biden warned that Putin’s relations to the US and the rest of the world would suffer if Navalny were to die or be killed behind bars.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a meeting with President Joe Biden this week.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will have a meeting with President Joe Biden this week.
Maxim Blinov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic, fundamental human rights,” Biden said.

“It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”

Biden — who on Sunday said he was “open” to Putin’s offer to exchange cybercriminals — was also asked if he would demand any “specific concessions” from the Russian leader when they meet on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

“I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses,” he said.

“And if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind.”

Biden added: “We should decide where it’s in our mutual interest, in the interest of the world, to cooperate, and see if we can do that.”

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia on February 20, 2021.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia on February 20, 2021.
AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File

“And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear what the red lines are,” he said.

Biden’s remarks came in the wake of Putin’s interview with NBC News, during which the Russian leader denied having ordered an assassination attempt on Navalny, who has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a nerve agent attack on him.

But Putin also wouldn’t say that Navalny will necessarily get out alive from the Russian prison where he was locked up after returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the poisoning.

“He will not be treated any worse than anybody else,” Putin said of his potential political rival.

Putin also mockingly dismissed American accusations tying him to interference in US elections and recent cyberattacks.

“I’m surprised that we have not yet been accused of provoking the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said.

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