Moscow responded angrily Thursday after President Joe Biden made comments criticizing Russian leader Vladimir Putin, including branding him a “killer” and saying he would “pay a price” for 2020 election interference.
Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States for “consultations” just hours after Biden’s remarks, which the Kremlin said were “very bad” and without precedent.
Asked about Biden’s comments during a video call on Thursday that was aired on Russian state TV, Putin said he wished his counterpart in Washington good health but charged that the comments reflected America’s own troubled past.
“In the history of every people, every state, there are a lot of hard, dramatic and bloody events. But when we evaluate other people or even other governments, we always look as if into the mirror. We always see ourselves in it,” Putin said.
“I remember when I was young and I got into fights with my friends, we always used to say ‘whoever calls names is called that himself,'” he added. “And that’s not just a children’s joke. The meaning is quite deep psychologically. We always see our own qualities in another person and think that he/she is like ourselves. And coming from that, evaluate his/her actions and evaluate him/her overall.”
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Putin’s response was delivered during a call with residents of Crimea marking the anniversary of its 2014 annexation from Ukraine. He added that Russia would still cooperate with the U.S. where it serves Moscow’s interests.
The comments came shortly after the Kremlin said Biden’s remarks suggested that he “definitely does not want to improve relations” between the two countries.
“I won’t be wordy in reaction to this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “I will only say that these are very bad statements by the U.S. president.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not cite specific reasons for recalling ambassador Anatoly Antonov, but indicated that relations between Moscow and Washington “have been going through hard times,” blaming the U.S. for bringing them “to a blind alley.”
While Zakharova did not mention Biden’s comments directly, Russia’s embassy in the U.S. released its own comment early Thursday blaming “certain ill-considered statements of high-ranking U.S. officials” for putting the “already excessively confrontational relations under the threat of collapse.”
During Wednesday’s interview with ABC News Biden said that Russia would face consequences for meddling in last year’s presidential election after a declassified report from the U.S. national intelligence director’s office found earlier this week that Putin authorized influence operations to help former President Donald Trump in last November’s election.
“(Putin) will pay a price,” Biden said, asked about the report. Biden did not disclose what price Putin could pay, only saying, “you will see shortly.”
The Kremlin had earlier dismissed the allegations in the report as baseless.
Asked if he thinks Putin is a killer, Biden said, “I do.”
Biden also confirmed that he once told Putin the Russian leader doesn’t “have a soul.” He said Putin responded to the comment, made during a visit to the Kremlin as vice president in 2011, by saying “We understand each other.”
The State Department said Wednesday that it was aware of Russia’s decision to recall its ambassador.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the Biden administration will take a more straightforward and direct approach in its relationship with Russia than former President Donald Trump.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been strained since Biden took office.
In coordination with the European Union, the U.S. announced sanctions earlier this month against senior members of the Russian government in connection with Navalny’s poisoning.
The sanctions were the first to target Moscow since Biden became president and opened a comprehensive review of U.S.-Russia policy, including the Kremlin’s actions against Navalny, interference into the U.S. election, the Solar Winds hack and reported bounties offered to Taliban-linked groups to target U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Since Biden’s inauguration, the only moment of cooperation between the two nations came when the U.S. and Russia extended a crucial nuclear arms control treaty last month.
On Thursday, Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said Biden calling Putin a killer was a “watershed” moment.
“Any expectations of the new U.S. administration’s new policy on the Russian direction have been written off by this boorish statement,” Kosachev said in a Facebook post.
He called Antonov’s recall an adequate reaction from the Kremlin, adding that it won’t be Russia’s last move unless there is an explanation or apology from the American side.
Tatyana Chistikova and The Associated Press contributed.