US President Joe Biden said he agrees with the assessment that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is a “killer.”
In an interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday, Biden said Putin would “pay a price” for trying to undermine his candidacy in the 2020 election as alleged in a new US intelligence report.
Asked if he thought Putin, who is accused of being ruthless with his opponents, is “a killer,” Biden said, “I do.”
The statement marked a stark contrast with predecessor Donald Trump’s steadfast refusal to say anything negative about the Russian president.
Biden said he had spoken to Putin in January after taking office.
“We had a long talk, he and I, I know him relatively well,” Biden said.
“The conversation started off, I said, ‘I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared,” Biden said.
He did not specify if he meant Russia interfering in the US election or other behavior to which the US objects, such as the poisoning and jailing of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
Russia reacted furiously to Biden’s comments on Putin being a killer.
“Biden insulted the citizens of our country with his statement,” the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, wrote on his Telegram channel, adding that attacks on Putin are “attacks on our country.”
Biden’s comments on Putin came after CNN reported the US is expected to announce sanctions on Russia next week over alleged meddling in the 2020 US presidential elections.
There will also likely be sanctions on Iran, China and other countries, according to to the report, which cited three anonymous US State Department officials.
An administration official also told the Reuters news agency that Biden had “been clear” that action would be taken over the election interference.
The official indicated that the US won’t balk from taking the steps and referred to the Biden administration’s announcement earlier this month of sanctions on Russian officials and businesses for the nearly fatal nerve agent attack upon Navalny and his subsequent jailing.
On Tuesday, a declassified intelligence assessment found broad efforts by the Kremlin and Iran to shape the outcome of the race — albeit each backing opposing candidates — but ultimately no evidence that any foreign actor changed votes or otherwise disrupted the voting process.
The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence represented the most detailed assessment of the array of foreign threats to the 2020 election. Those included efforts by Iran to undermine confidence in the vote and harm Trump’s reelection prospects, as well as Moscow operations that relied on Trump’s allies to smear Biden, the eventual winner.
Although an August intelligence assessment found that Beijing preferred a Biden presidency, China ultimately did not interfere on either side and “considered but did not deploy” influence operations intended to affect the outcome.
The primary threats instead came from Russia and Iran, albeit with different intentions and through different means, according to intelligence officials.
Russia, the report said, sought to undermine Biden’s candidacy because it viewed him as opposed to the Kremlin’s interests, though it took some steps to prepare for a Democratic administration as the election neared.
The report also says Putin authorized influence operations aimed at denigrating Biden, boosting Trump, undermining confidence in the election and exacerbating social divisions in the US.
Notably, though, Russia was not as aggressive as in past election cycles in trying to hack election infrastructure. The report said Russian cyber operations that targeted state and local government networks last year were probably not election-focused and were instead part of a broader effort to target US and global entities.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.