Ahead of a summit between the two leaders next week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that President Biden’s characterization of him as a “killer” was “not something I worry about in the least” — though he did not reject the description outright.
“Over my tenure, I’ve gotten used to attacks from all kinds of angles and from all kinds of areas under all kinds of pretext and reasons and of different caliber and fierceness and none of it surprises me,” Putin told NBC News correspondent Keir Simmons.
“So, as far as harsh rhetoric, I think that this is an expression of overall U.S. culture,” Putin continued. “Of course, in Hollywood … there are some deep things in Hollywood, macho behavior, which can be treated as cinematic art but that is part of U.S. political culture, where it’s considered normal. By the way, not here [in Russia]. It is not considered normal here.”
When Simmons objected that he hadn’t heard Putin answer his direct question: “Are you a killer?” the Russian leader responded: “I did answer, I did answer. I will add if you let me. I’ve heard dozens of such accusations, especially during the period of some grave events during our counterterrorism efforts in North Caucasus. And, when that happens, I’m always guided by the interests of the Russian people and Russian state, and sentiments in terms of who calls somebody what and what kind of labels, this is not something I worry about in the least.”
He still didn’t answer the question.
In March, Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, “I do,” when the anchor asked the president if he believed Putin was “a killer.” At the time, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded by calling Biden’s remarks a “very bad statement” indicating that Washington “doesn’t want to normalize relations.”
The July 16 summit between Putin and Biden in Geneva will be the first between the Russian president and an American leader since Putin met with former President Donald Trump in Helsinki in July 2018. Trump was criticized for expressing doubt during it that Russian officials had meddled in the 2016 election.
Biden has vowed to take a tough line with Moscow’s longtime leader and Putin had kinder words for Trump while comparing the 45th president to his successor.
“I believe that former US president Mr. Trump is an extraordinary individual, talented individual, otherwise he would not have become US president,” Putin said. “He is a colorful individual. You may like him or not. But he didn’t come from the US establishment, he had not been part of big time politics before, and some like it, some don’t like it but that is a fact.
“President Biden, of course, is radically different from Trump because President Biden is a career man,” Putin continued. “He has spent virtually his entire adulthood in politics … That’s a different kind of person, and it is my great hope that yes, there are some advantages, some disadvantages, but there will not be any impulse-based movements on behalf of the sitting US president.”
The NBC interview, a portion of which aired on “NBC Nightly News” Friday and which will be broadcast in full on Monday, is Putin’s first with an American outlet since he sat down with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace at the time of his 2018 summit with Trump.
During that interview, Wallace memorably presented Putin with a copy of the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking and stealing emails from Democratic campaign organizations and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.