During a press conference Wednesday following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Biden snapped at a reporter for asking how he could be confident the Russian leader would “change his behavior” given his denial of human rights abuses against Russian dissident Alexei Navalny and others, his refusal to admit even partial responsibility for the Russian cyber attack on a major U.S. oil pipeline, and his tepid commitment to improving U.S.-Russia relations generally.
Biden barked back, “I’m not confident he’s going to change his behavior. What the hell? … when did I say I was confident?”
“Look, let’s get it straight. What I said was what will change his behavior if the rest of the world reacts to him and diminishes his standing in the world,” he added after the reporter, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, clarified her question.
Collins responded by pointing out that Putin refused to give ground during his own press conference on the issues that Biden said they would be discussing during their meeting, and argued that Putin’s history suggests he won’t be changing his behavior anytime soon.
“If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business,” Biden shot back.
"What the hell? … when did I say I was confident? … if you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business" — Biden gets upset at Kaitlan Collins's shouted question as he tries to leave the news conference pic.twitter.com/mCQ1218LaW
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 16, 2021
Biden reportedly approached the press on the tarmac before boarding Air Force One to apologize for being such a “wise guy” when he harshly addressed the reporter’s question.
During an appearance on CNN directly following Biden’s outburst, Collins says she was simply doing her job and Biden’s apology was “completely unnecessary.”
“He did not have to apologize, though I do appreciate he did,” she added. Collins mentioned that “asking the president a question does not mean it has a negative slant or a positive slant.”
The president also fielded questions during the press conference about an earlier comment Putin made about the Russian regime’s targeting of opposition leaders.
During his individual press briefing, which preceded Biden’s, Putin said his government only cracks down on foreign agents as a means to prevent domestic disturbances that threaten homeland security, citing the January 6 Capitol Riot episode and the Black Lives Matter riots that shook the U.S. last summer as cautionary examples.
Biden said, “That’s a ridiculous comparison,” when asked about Putin’s claim.
Biden added that there’s a stark difference between criminals storming a government building, violently assaulting law enforcement, and destroying property and peaceful demonstrators marching and exercising their right to free expression.
Another reporter asked what Biden believed he had achieved during his conversation with Putin and how he planned to begin to hold Russia accountable for its transgressions, such as the numerous recent cyber attacks and imprisoning Navalny and two Americans.
The president assured the press that “He [Putin] knows there are consequences.” He then affirmed that Putin’s malfeasance will practically check itself. “His worldwide credibility shrinks,” Biden said.
As an example, he suggested that Russia’s interference and meddling in U.S. elections, exposed and known by the globe, “diminishes the standing of a country that is desperately trying to maintain its world power.”
“When you run a country that does not abide by international norms, it hurts you,” Biden asserted. He said no concrete ultimatums, penalties, or repercussions were discussed with Putin otherwise in regards to ransomware, Navalny, etc.
As far as Russia attempting to undermine U.S. cyber infrastructure, Biden said, “We have significant cyber capability and he knows it. If he violates these basic norms we will respond.” Biden also stated that if Navalny, incarcerated by Russian authorities for speaking out against corruption in the regime, were to perish in Russian prison, it would be “devastating.”
Biden previously declared at the NATO press conference Monday that “Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his [Putin] relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”
“The last thing Putin wants now is a cold war,” Biden said Wednesday, although he clarified that their civil, optimistic chat does not mean there’s been a dramatic dynamic adjustment to friendly “kumbaya” between the two countries. Biden said that Putin will not suddenly “lay down his arms”, as he’s still “concerned about being encircled.”