President Joe Biden said U.S. allies have thanked him for his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin, but he warned the Russian president that relations would be severely damaged if Alexey Navalny, a political opponent who was the victim of an apparent assassination attempt, died in prison.
“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” Biden said at a news conference in Brussels following a NATO summit on Monday. “It would be a tragedy.”
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“It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” he said of Putin.
Navalny was jailed when he returned to Russia following treatment in Germany for his poisoning. Biden will meet Putin for the first time as U.S. president on Wednesday in Geneva.
Biden declined to say whether he’ll seek concessions from Putin, referring to him as a “worthy adversary” and saying he wouldn’t negotiate in public. But he said that allied leaders he’s met with at Group of Seven and NATO summits in the past few days all support the meeting.
“Generically, you all thought it was Biden meeting him too soon,” Biden told reporters. “Everyone I’ve spoken to privately and publicly” said it was the right time for the meeting, “and thought it was thoroughly appropriate that I do.”
Putin and Biden agree that their countries’ relationship has hit a post-Cold War low, from tensions over election interference to cyber attacks and political freedoms. Putin has repeatedly provoked the U.S. ahead of his meeting with Biden, the first face-to-face discussion between the two leaders since Biden became president.
Biden said that the two leaders “should decide where it is in our mutual interest and in the interest of the world to cooperate and see if we can do that. And the areas where we don’t agree, make it clear where the red lines are.”
In an interview with NBC News ahead of the summit, the Russian leader deflected questions about his crackdown on political dissent by suggesting that hundreds of people arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 are under “persecution for political opinions.”
Biden is likely to pressure Putin over his efforts to stifle his political opponents, including Navalny. A Russian court recently outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist group and thousands of his supporters have been imprisoned for protesting his arrest.
“You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia,” Putin said in a portion of the interview aired Monday. “We view it completely differently.”
He then pivoted to the Jan. 6 riot, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump burst into the Capitol in an attempt to halt the counting of electoral votes to confirm Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Putin said, referring to Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot by a Capitol Police officer while trying to enter a door outside the House floor.
“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress?” Putin added. “And they didn’t go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands.”
Putin denied that the Russian government was behind Navalny’s poisoning last year, saying, “we don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody.”
The Russian leader also said the Kremlin was not responsible for a series of cyberattacks against the U.S.
“We have been accused of all kinds of things,” Putin said. “Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.”
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