Vladimir Putin followed up a shorter-than-expected summit with President Joe Biden with a longer-than-expected press conference, with a standout moment coming when he expressed some exasperation when pressed by ABC News’ Rachel Scott on his treatment of his political opponents.
Scott initially asked Putin: “President Biden has said he will respond if cyberattacks from Russia do not stop. I’m curious, what did he tell you? Did he make any threats? And a quick follow-up if I may, sir: The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long. Alexey Navalny’s organization calls for free and fair elections, an end to corruption, but Russia has outlawed that organization, calling it extremist. And you now have prevented anyone who supports him to run for office. For my question for you Mr. President: What are you so afraid of?”
Putin, via a translator, seemed irked by it, thinking he already had addressed the issue. “I have already spoken to your colleagues,” he said. “Now I have to repeat that to you.” He went on to complain that the U.S. has favored individual organizations in Russia but has declared the Russian Federation as an “enemy.”
“They have publicly declared that they will try to ‘contain’ Russia,” Putin said. “My question is, which organizations? Which political organizations in the U.S. are going be supported by the U.S., especially if they pay them?”
He then tried to establish some equivalency and whataboutism, comparing to arrests of political opposition in Russia to the arrests of Black Lives Matter protesters and even to those involved in the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
Putin then said that if an organization had an “extremist” character, “that is another kettle of fish,” saying that Navalny’s group called for public mass demonstrations, and also urged minors to take part in street demonstrations, and obviously they were being used or manipulated against the law enforcement agencies. America quite recently had to deal with terrible events after the … killing of the African American and Black Lives Matter ensued. I don’t want to make any judgment about that, but what we saw mass violations of the law. We sympathize with the Americans, but we do not wish that this kind of thing should happen on our territory, and we would do our utmost to prevent it.”
Then he got to his fears. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he said. “That’s absolutely irrelevant.”
Scott, though, followed up. “You didn’t answer my question, sir. If all of your political opponents are dead or in prison, poisoned, doesn’t that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight?”
Putin responded, “On the question of who is murdering whom, people rioted and went into the Congress in the U.S. with political demands, and many people were declared as criminals and they are threatened with imprisonment for 20 to 25 years. These people were immediately arrested after those events. On what grounds we don’t know always. … Others were just shot on the spot and unarmed as well.”
That was a reference to Ashli Babbitt, the protester who was shot and killed during the January 6 siege. Video showed her near the door of the Speaker’s Lobby as demonstrators tried to break through. The area has access to the House chamber.
.@ABC News' @rachelvscott to Russian Pres. Putin: "The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long…and you have now prevented anyone who supports [Alexey Navalny] to run for office.
"So my question is, Mr. President: what are you so afraid of?" pic.twitter.com/EMNnaRLLbO
— ABC News (@ABC) June 16, 2021
Earlier, CNN’s Matthew Chance had asked Putin about his treatment of the political opposition. Putin referred to Navalny but did not utter his name. Navalny has been a key figure involved in an anticorruption campaign and is currently in prison. “He basically deflected whether or not he was responsible for poisoning Alexy Navalny, almost killing him,” Chance said latter on the network.
Putin called his summit with Biden “constructive,” but it appeared that there was no substantial breakthrough. On one of the pressing issues, cybersecurity, Putin said that there would be further talks. He said that Biden was “very different” from his predecessor, Donald Trump.
“It certainly doesn’t imply that we looked into each other’s eyes, and found a soul, or swore eternal friendship,” Putin said, an apparent reference to George W. Bush’s remarks after his first presidential meeting with the Russian leader.
The Russian president also got a bit philosophical during the press conference, at one point telling the reporters gathered, “In life there is no happiness in life. There is only the mirage of it on the horizon. So we’ll cherish that.”
The press conference was carried by major cable news networks, as well as via a special report on ABC News.