Less than two weeks after meeting President Biden for the first time in Geneva, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the United States’ prosecution of rioters involved in the January attack on the Capitol, calling it an example of American “double standards.”
The remarks are likely to add to Moscow’s and Washington’s skepticism that the June 16 summit will result in a breakthrough between the two countries. Relations remain strained due to issues such as cyberattacks blamed on Russia, according to Western intelligence.
Meanwhile, Putin claimed on Friday that the US wants to “suppress” Russia. He suggested that the agenda for the summit with Biden cover potential areas of agreement, such as climate, pandemic, disarmament, and combating terrorism.
This is in contrast to Biden’s preview of the summit last week, when he stated that he would press Putin on human rights violations such as Russia’s treatment of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. In response, the Kremlin has attempted to draw parallels with the treatment of Capitol rioters in the United States. Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it a “persecution.” The moderator of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum then asked Putin to clarify whether he was defending the rioters, joking that the comments could result in Putin being “banned online.”
In the investigation into the Capitol riot, approximately 500 people have been charged with offenses such as assaulting police officers, violent entry into Congress, and disorderly conduct.
Putin described Biden as a “very experienced man” in a separate interview with state television following his session at the St. Petersburg conference. He has spent his entire life in politics. I hope he is experienced, as well as sensible and cautious as a person.” One topic that could come up between the two leaders is Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who Putin has done nothing to break with as a strongman ally.
Lukashenko sparked international outrage last month when he forced down a civilian jetliner flying over Belarus to arrest an opposition journalist on board, Roman Protasevich. Sofia Sapega, a Russian activist who was traveling with Protasevich on the flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, was also detained.
According to Lukashenko, Belarus air traffic controllers diverted the plane due to an emailed bomb threat purportedly from the Palestinian militant group Hamas. According to the email service provider, the email appeared to have been sent after the plane was diverted. In addition, Hamas denied issuing any bomb threats.
When asked whether he believed Lukashenko’s explanation, Putin replied, “Honestly, I don’t know.” He went on to say that he preferred not to express an opinion, but that Russian special forces were not involved.
The moderator then posed a hypothetical question: “Would Russia, for example, force down a plane flying from London to Thailand over Russia if there was someone on board on Russia’s wanted list?”
Dmitry Gudkov, a former parliamentarian who has been critical of Putin, and Andrei Pivovarov, director of Open Russia, a now-defunct opposition group linked to exiled businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, were detained earlier this week by Russian authorities.
On Friday, Navalny celebrated his 45th birthday while serving a more-than-two-year prison sentence on charges that international observers and his allies say were made up to silence him. Putin avoided mentioning the United States for the majority of his session, which was his first in-person appearance since the coronavirus pandemic began. He instead boasted that the first line of Russia’s contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which connects Russia and Germany, had been completed just hours before.
The pipeline, worth billions of dollars, has been a source of contention between the United States and Russia. Putin stated that the second pipeline line will be completed within a few months.
Last month, the Biden administration eased sanctions on the pipeline in what was billed as an effort by Washington to mend relations with Berlin and other European partners. Some Republican U.S. senators criticized it for allowing Russia to use Nord Stream 2 to increase some European Union states’ reliance on Moscow. The United States exports natural gas to Europe, but Russian gas is less expensive.