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Russia erupts in fury over Biden’s calling Putin a killer


By Anton Troianiovski


Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States and unleashed a storm of derision aimed at President Joe Biden after he said in a television interview that he thought President Vladimir Putin was a killer.


Russia’s Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday that it had summoned its envoy in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, to Moscow “in order to analyze what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States.”


“We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this,” the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said in a statement.


Zakharova did not specify whether a specific event had prompted the decision to recall Antonov, but the rare move came as Russian officials reacted with fury to an interview with Biden aired by ABC News. In the interview, when asked whether he thought Putin was a “killer,” Biden responded: “Mmm hmm, I do.”


Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, described Biden’s comments as “very bad.”


“He clearly does not want to improve relations with our country, and we will be proceeding based precisely on this,” Peskov told reporters Thursday.


Despite Biden’s long-running criticism of Putin, some Russian analysts had voiced hope that the Kremlin could forge a productive working relationship with the White House on areas of common interest. While Biden told ABC that he would continue to look for places “where it’s in our mutual interest to work together” with Russia, some officials in Moscow responded by dismissing the possibility of any cooperation.


“This is a watershed moment,” Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s upper house of Parliament, wrote in a post on Facebook on Thursday in reference to Biden’s interview. “Any expectations for the new U.S. administration’s new policy toward Russia have been written off by this boorish statement.”


Kosachev warned that Russia would respond further, without specifying how, to Biden’s comments “if explanations and apologies do not follow from the American side.”


On state television, news programs devoted extensive airtime to describing Biden as confused and out of touch, while politicians lined up to voice their anger and threaten a response.


Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of the lower house of Parliament, thundered that “the only language” that Americans understand “is, unfortunately, the language of force.” Another senior lawmaker, Andrei Turchak, described Biden’s utterance as “a challenge to our entire nation.”


Russian officials did not immediately make specific threats. But an escalation of tensions with the West has often accompanied domestic crackdowns by the Kremlin, which claims that the United States is secretly backing opposition politicians in Russia in order to weaken Putin. For instance, Russia’s internet regulator warned this week that it was preparing to block access to Twitter in the country entirely starting in one month, after restricting access to the American social network last week.


Some Western officials accuse Putin, among other things, of ordering the assassination attempt of his most vocal domestic critic, Alexei Navalny, by a military-grade nerve agent in Siberia last year. Putin has denied playing any role in that near-deadly poisoning, quipping in December that if Russian agents had wanted to kill the opposition leader, “They would have probably finished the job.”


The Russian government has also been linked to attacks on foreign soil, including the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England, in 2018 and the shooting death of a former commander of Chechen separatists in Berlin the following year.


Putin signed a law in 2006 legalizing targeted killings abroad — legislation that Russian lawmakers said at the time was inspired by American and Israeli conduct.

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