By Tony Halpin and Andrey Biryukov
Mar 18, 2021, 9:40 AM – Updated on Mar 18, 2021, 8:54 PM
Word Count: 937
“I would say to him: I wish you good health,” Putin said Thursday, asked for his response to Biden, 78, during a televised videoconference celebrating the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. He said Moscow would continue to work with Washington in areas of common interest, even as he claimed there were sharp, even biological, differences between Russians and Americans.
“Although they think we are the same as them, we are different people, we have a different genetic and cultural-moral code,” Putin said, citing slavery and the U.S. use of nuclear weapons in World War II. “But we know how to defend our own interests, and we will work with them but in those areas in which we are interested and on terms we consider favorable for us. And they will have to reckon with that.”
Other Russian officials talked tougher, but there was no immediate indication the Kremlin planned to go beyond its initial response of recalling its ambassador from Washington.
Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament demanded an apology from Biden for his “boorish” allegations. The U.S. president’s remark is a “watershed” in relations and “unacceptable in any circumstances,” Kosachyov wrote on Facebook Thursday.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Putin and Biden “certainly have different perspectives on their respective countries, and how to approach engagement in the world, but where they agree is that we should continue to look for ways to work together.”
She did not apologize for Biden’s assertion that Putin is “a killer.”
“The president gave a direct answer to a direct question,” Psaki said at a briefing for reporters. “The president is not going to hold back, clearly, when he has concerns — whether it is with words or actions.”
Putin told the Rossiya 24 television network that he’s prepared for a direct, honest conversation with Biden. “We could talk about bilateral relations, about strategic stability, about resolving regional conflicts,” he said.
Late Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry announced it was summoning Ambassador Anatoly Antonov back from Washington for consultations. Warning of the risks of “an irreversible deterioration in relations” with the new U.S. administration, the ministry said Russia still hopes to reverse the downward spiral.
Psaki said the U.S. ambassador, John Sullivan, will remain in Moscow.
“Putin’s initial reaction showed there is no desire to go along the path of escalation,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council. “The Russian side is willing to put it behind it as long as there aren’t any more such inflammatory statements in the future.”
The diplomatic demarche came after Biden agreed with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview that Putin was a killer and said the Russian leader would “pay a price” for alleged meddling in U.S. elections.
Agree that Russia recalling Amb. Antonov from Washington is not a crisis. It is the consequence of bad relations, mainly due to Putin’s aggression against the US, Europe, and some of Russia’s neighbors (and his own people). @ACEurasia https://t.co/hj82iuG0ph
— Daniel Fried (@AmbDanFried) March 17, 2021
Biden’s comments, recorded Tuesday, came the same day as a U.S. intelligence community report that Putin ordered influence operations to hurt his candidacy in the 2020 election, favoring former President Donald Trump just as the intelligence community says the Russian leader did in 2016 against then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Kremlin denies any interference.
The ruble slipped against the dollar after Putin’s comments Thursday as other emerging-markets currencies also fell. The Russian currency had dropped to the lowest in a week a day earlier.
READ MORE: All About the U.S. Sanctions Aimed at Putin’s Russia: QuickTake
Russian attempts to legitimize its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine “are not, and will not be, recognized,” foreign ministers of the Group of Seven leading democracies, which expelled Russia from its ranks over the crisis, said in a joint statement Thursday. The G-7 “remains fully committed to the implementation of sanctions” over Crimea and Russia’s backing for separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Amid the rhetorical exchanges, however, the U.S. and Russia were working together to persuade the Afghan government to share power with the Taliban at an international conference in Moscow. U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was at Thursday’s talks hosted by Russia that included representatives of the warring Afghan sides as well as regional powers.
Many officials in Putin’s government and associates of the Russian leader already live under U.S. sanctions due to previous rounds of punishment for election interference, attacks on political opponents and the annexation of Crimea, limiting Biden’s options for fresh targets.
New U.S. sanctions could come as soon as next week and may target Russia’s oligarchs and others close to Putin, according to two people familiar with the matter. The impact of the penalties may be muted, as Russians hit with U.S. sanctions usually don’t maintain western bank accounts or have plans to travel to the country.
(Updates with Psaki and Putin remarks beginning in sixth paragraph)
–With assistance from Henry Meyer, Dina Khrennikova, Jennifer Jacobs and Nancy Cook.