Putin sets tough tone ahead of summit with Biden

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin (AP)
7:35am, Sat 05 Jun 2021
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Russian president Vladimir Putin has set a tough tone for the upcoming summit with his US counterpart Joe Biden.

Mr Putin accused Washington of trying to contain Russia, and cited the US response to the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol as a manifestation of the west’s double standards.

Speaking at an economic forum in St Petersburg, Mr Putin said that arms control, global conflicts, the coronavirus pandemic and climate change are among the issues he would discuss with the US president at their June 16 summit in Geneva.

The Russian leader said: “We need to find ways of looking for a settlement in our relations, which are at an extremely low level now.

Vladimir Putin (AP)

“We don’t have any issues with the US,” he continued. “But it has an issue with us.

“It wants to contain our development and publicly talks about it. Economic restrictions and attempts to influence our country’s domestic politics, relying on forces they consider their allies inside Russia, stem from that.”

Mr Putin voiced hope that the meeting will help ease tensions with Washington.

Russian-US ties have sunk to post-Cold War lows over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, accusations of Russian interference in elections in the US and other western nations, and cyber attacks that US officials allege had Russian origins.

Mr Putin reiterated that Russia rejects accusations of interfering in US presidential elections, and he spoke critically of the US response to the Capitol attack, which took place as the US congress prepared to certify that Mr Biden had defeated then-president Donald Trump in November.

“They weren’t just a crowd of robbers and rioters. Those people had come with political demands,” Mr Putin said.

He pointed out that the heavy charges against hundreds of participants in the attack were filed even as the US and its allies strongly criticised a crackdown by officials in Belarus on anti-government protests.

Journalists listen to Mr Putin (AP)

And he charged that even as the west has criticised Russian authorities over its harsh response to anti-Kremlin demonstrations, protesters in Europe have faced an even tougher police response, with some shot in the eye by what he mockingly called “democratic rubber bullets”.

At a later videoconference with the heads of major international news agencies, Mr Putin he does not “expect any breakthrough results” from the summit with Mr Biden.

The United States and Russia have some corresponding interests, he said, “despite certain disagreements. These disagreements are not the result of Russian actions”.

In response to a question from Associated Press president and chief executive Gary Pruitt, Mr Putin returned to the theme of blaming the United States for poor relations.

“We are not taking steps first – I’m talking about the steps that deteriorated our relations. It was not us who introduced sanctions against us, it was the United States who did that on every occasion and even without grounds, just because our country exists,” he said through a translator.

Mr Putin speaks (AP)

He also criticised the United States as being overconfident, and drew a parallel with the former Soviet Union.

“You know what the problem is? I will tell you as a former citizen of the former Soviet Union. What is the problem of empires? They think that they are so powerful that they can afford small errors and mistakes,” he said.

“But the number of problems is growing. There comes a time when they can no longer be dealt with. And the United States, with a confident gait, a firm step, is going straight along the path of the Soviet Union.”

At the earlier session, Mr Putin praised Mr Biden as a “very experienced statesman who has been involved in politics for his entire life … and a very prudent and careful person. I do hope that our meeting will be positive”.

He also took time to deride the allegations that Russian hackers targeted a US fuel pipeline and a meat plant – accusations that have clouded the atmosphere before the summit.

“I do hope that people would realise that there hasn’t been any malicious Russian activity whatsoever,” Mr Putin said.

“I heard something about the meat plant. It’s sheer nonsense. We all understand it’s just ridiculous. A pipeline? It’s equally absurd.”

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