Already tense relations between Russia and the United States are fraying further as U.S. President Joe Biden suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon “pay a price” for alleged meddling in U.S. elections and Russia summoned its ambassador to the United States back to Moscow for consultations.
In an interview on ABC News aired on March 17, Biden said he believes Putin is a killer who has no soul and will soon "pay a price" for trying to interfere in last November's presidential election. When asked by interviewer George Stephanopoulos what the consequences for the interference in the vote will be, Biden replied: "You'll see shortly."
The wide-ranging interview aired just hours after a report published by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed that Putin had “authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President [Donald] Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the United States.”
Biden, who has spent more than four decades in politics, said he had come to know Putin "relatively well" over the years and he doesn't believe he has a soul.
Asked if he thought Putin was a killer, Biden told ABC: "Mmm hmm, I do."
The Kremlin on March 17 denied the findings of the report, saying they were “absolutely unfounded.”
Russia “did not interfere” in the election and “was not involved in campaigns against any of the candidates," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Hours later, Russia announced it had summoned its ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, to Moscow for consultations.
"The main thing for us is to determine the ways in which the difficult Russian-American relations that Washington has led into a dead end in recent years could be rectified," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement. "We are interested in preventing their irreversible degradation if the Americans recognize the risks involved."
Washington's relations with Moscow are at post-Cold War lows, strained by issues including Russia's alleged meddling in elections in the United States and other democracies, the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, and the poisoning and jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny.
The U.S. Commerce Department said on March 17 it was expanding restrictions imposed on Russian experts that were imposed earlier this month as punishment for the Navalny affair.
Despite strained relations, Biden noted that it was possible to "walk and chew gum at the same time for places where it's in our mutual interest to work together."
One area where Russia and the United States could cooperate would be the renewal of the New START nuclear agreement, Biden said.
The interview also touched on several foreign policy topics besides Russia.
Biden warned that a deadline set out in a deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1 "could happen, but it is tough."
"I'm in the process of making that decision now as to when they'll leave," Biden said.
"The fact is...that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president -- the former president -- worked out. And so we're in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision's going to be -- it's in process now," Biden said.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government resumed last month in Qatar after a delay of more than a month amid escalating violence in the war-torn country.
Russia will host a conference on March 18 to advance the peace process. Washington's special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will participate in the event, as will the Taliban and the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
On relations with the Middle East, Biden said he had "made it clear" to Saudi Arabia's king "that things were going to change" after U.S. intelligence concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved an operation to capture or kill Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, who had grown increasingly critical of the crown prince, Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Saudi officials had said his death was the result of a "rogue operation" and was not state sanctioned.
"We held accountable all the people in that organization -- but not the crown prince, because we have never that I'm aware of, when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him," Biden said.