Russia calls back US ambassador as it ponders ‘irreversible degradation’ after Biden brands Putin a ‘killer’

President called Vladimir Putin a “killer” during interview with ABC News

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 17 March 2021 14:06 EDT
Biden says he believes Putin is a 'killer'

Russia called its US ambassador Anatoly Antonov back home on Wednesday for consultations, as Moscow mulls avoiding what its foreign ministry called an “irreversible degradation” of relations with America during the early days of the Biden administration.

Tensions between the two nations are high, following recently declassified reports on Russia’s suspected attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, US condemnation over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, and Joe Biden calling Vladimir Putin a “killer” in an interview on ABC News on Tuesday.

“The new American administration has been in power for two months, and a symbolic 100-day anniversary is just round the corner, which is an appropriate milestone to try and assess what the Biden team is successful in, and what it’s not,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement, according to Russia’s state-owned Sputnik news service.

A pause would also allow Americans to “acknowledge the associated risks” of the fraying relationship between the two nations, she added, which “Washington has itself sent into a stalemate in recent years.”

Mr Biden sounded a similar tone during the ABC interview, which aired on Wednesday. Following questions from George Stephanopoulos about investigations into Russia-linked cyber attacks and an intelligence report linking the Kremlin to election-related online interference that promoted Donald Trump and right-wing conspiracy theories, the host asked whether Mr Biden thought the Russian president was a “killer.”

“I do,” he responded, and threatened some form of retaliation.

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“The price he’s going to pay, you’ll see shortly,” Mr Biden said.

The back-and-forth comes as Washington once again contends with the fallout from a suspected Russian influence campaign.

During the 2020 US president election, Russia once again conducted a sweeping social media influence effort, using Ukraine-linked individuals connected to Russian intelligence and “prominent US persons and media” to harm the Biden campaign, according to a newly declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released on Tuesday.

Mr Trump was accused of having an overly deferential relationship with Mr Putin while he was in office, despite Russian attempts to meddle in US elections, and reports that Russia offered Afghan militants bounties to kill US troops. In 2017, he told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly that he respected the Russian leader.

“But he’s a killer,” Mr O’Reilly responded.

“There are a lot of killers,” Mr Trump said. “You think our country’s so innocent?”

Russia and the US have also clashed over the proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which would run between Germany and Russia. The US is reportedly preparing additional sanctions on entities related to the project, which Mr Biden has previously called “a bad deal for Europe,” and lawmakers have criticised because it could extend Russian influence inside of NATO.

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