WASHINGTON – Russia has recalled its ambassador to the United States to discuss relations with Washington, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday.
The move came after President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin would “pay a price” for Moscow’s interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In an interview with ABC News, Biden was also asked if he thought Putin is a killer.
“I do,” Biden responded. The president did not elaborate on the “killer” question or on what costs the U.S. might impose on Russia over election interference.
In her statement, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not mention the “killer” remark or any other specific reason for the ambassador’s recall.
“Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov has been summoned to Moscow for consultations in order to analyze what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States,” she said.
The diplomatic tiff comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Moscow. On Tuesday, U.S. intelligence officials released a report concluding that Russia tried to denigrate Biden’s candidacy in the 2020 election. The declassified assessment said that Putin authorized the election meddling, which sought to help former president Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
Putin authorized influence operations “aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.,” the report concluded.
The Biden administration also recently sanctioned Russia over the poisoning and continued detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the first of several steps the Biden administration plans to take to confront Russian aggression.
“(Putin’s) only method is killing people,” Navalny said. “He’ll go down in history as a poisoner.”
The list of high-profile Putin critics and former Kremlin insiders, spies and power brokers who are the victims of unsolved murders, grisly poisonings, suspicious deaths, as well as lighter forms of persecution and ill-treatment, is long.
Zakharova said the Biden administration is leading U.S.-Russia relations into a “blind alley.”
“The most important thing for us is to identify ways of rectifying Russia-U.S. relations, which have been going through hard times as Washington has, as a matter of fact, brought them to a blind alley,” she said in her statement. “We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this.”
The White House downplayed Russia’s recall of Antonov and declined to say whether the U.S. would also bring its ambassador home from Moscow.
Biden is “not going to hold back in his direct communications, nor is he going to hold back publicly,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday. “And we have still found ways to work together in areas where we have mutual interest, including the extension of a new START by five years. That’s diplomacy in action.”
A State Department spokeswoman said they were aware of Moscow’s decision but had “noting to add” to Biden’s comments.
“We remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses, and even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we’ll also work to hold them accountable,” said Jalina Porter, the State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson. “When it comes to any recall from us, we have nothing to comment on that.”
Contributing: Matthew Brown and Associated Press