A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said on March 19 that the Russian leader made an unconventional offer this week of a public conversation with U.S. President Joe Biden to repair rapidly fraying relations but hasn't heard back from the White House.
The overture is a response to the U.S. president saying he believed Putin, whose two decades as Russia's leader has included Western accusations of state-sponsored assassination attempts against political opponents at home and abroad, is a killer.
“Since Biden's words were quite unprecedented, unprecedented formats can't be excluded,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the invite to speak by telephone in a conversation that would be made public. “President Putin proposed to discuss the situation openly because it would be interesting for the people of both countries.”
Peskov said the offer would not be repeated.
Biden, who has spent more than four decades in politics, said during an ABC News interview broadcast on March 17, "I do" when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer.
Putin publicly responded on March 18 by citing the U.S. history of slavery, the government's treatment of Native Americans, and the atomic bombs dropped on Japan near the end of World War II.
The former KGB agent added, though, that Moscow would cooperate with Washington where it is in Russia's interests to do so.
Putin proposed a phone call with Biden in the coming days to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and regional conflicts, among other topics, and said it should be open to the public.
Post-Cold War Lows
On March 19, Peskov suggested the offer was intended to avoid permanent damage in Russian-U.S. relations from Biden's characterization.
"These statements from the president of the United States are very bad," Peskov said earlier in the week. "It is clear that he does not want to get the relationship with our country back on track, and we will proceed from that."
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, cyberattacks allegedly from Russian hackers, and the poisoning and jailing of Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny.
The Biden interview came on the heels of the release of a report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence that assessed 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.”
The Kremlin immediately denied the findings of the report, saying they were “absolutely unfounded.”
In the ABC News interview, Biden also said he had come to know Putin "relatively well" over the years and he doesn't believe he has a soul. He also sent a warning that Putin will soon "pay a price" for trying to interfere in November's presidential election.
Within hours of the comments, Russia summoned its ambassador to the United States back to Moscow for consultations and the reverberations continued the next day when a senior Russian lawmaker and Kremlin ally said Biden owes the country an apology.
Konstantin Kosachyov, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's upper house, called it "a watershed moment" in bilateral relations.
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."
He said the days of "rolling over" to Putin were done.