In an exclusive interview with NBC’s “Today,” Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia is waging cyber warfare against the United States and refused to guarantee opposition leader Alexei Navalny — whose name he would not say — will leave prison alive.
Why it matters: Cyberattacks by Russian intelligence and Russian-speaking criminal groups, as well as the Kremlin’s attempted assassination and jailing of Navalny, are among the topics President Biden is expected to raise at his Geneva summit with Putin on Wednesday.
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Background: The Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia in April for the massive SolarWinds hack of federal agencies and interference in the 2020 U.S. election, which U.S. intelligence assessed was personally ordered by Putin.
The U.S. has also sanctioned seven senior Russian officials for the poisoning and detention of Navalny, who is often described as “the man Putin fears most.”
In recent weeks, Russia has moved to designate Navalny’s political networks as terrorist organizations, effectively outlawing the country’s most prominent opposition faction.
Biden has condemned Russia’s behavior as “incons istent with international norms,” and both he and Putin agree that U.S.-Russia relations are at a “low point.” The White House has said Biden remains committed to meeting Putin on Wednesday “because of our countries’ differences, not in spite of them.”
What they’re saying: “Where is the evidence? Where is proof? It’s becoming farcical,” Putin told NBC’s Keir Simmons when asked if he is “waging a cyber war against America.”
“We know it well. We have been accused of all kinds of things: election interference, cyber attacks and so on and so forth, and not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.”
“You know, the simplest thing to do would be for us to sit down calmly and agree on joint work in cyber space,” he continued. “We are willing to engage with international participants, including the United States. You are the ones who have refused to engage in joint work.”
On Navalny: Putin denied that Russia is “outlawing dissent,” saying that he views the ban on Navalny’s political networks “completely differently.” Asked whether he could guarantee Navalny would leave prison alive, Putin said: “The person you have mentioned, the same kind of measures will apply, not in any way worse to anybody else who happens to be in prison.”
When Simmons replied that “his name is Alexei Navalny,” Putin shook his head and responded: “I don’t care. I don’t care.”
On Americans imprisoned in Russia: Putin said he would be willing to consider a “prisoner swap” for the two former U.S. Marines, Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed, currently detained in Russia. The State Department has said Russia is holding the two Americans as “political pawns.”
On Biden’s claim he once told Putin he doesn’t have a soul: “I do not remember this particular part of our conversation to be honest with you,” Putin told Simmons. “He probably has a good memory.”
Go deeper: G7 leaders warn Russia on cyberattacks, chemical weapons usage
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