Biden challenges Putin on human rights, democracy and cyber hacking at Geneva summit

Biden argues Russia’s image is at stake over issues including Navalny, election meddling

John Bowden
Wednesday 16 June 2021 19:32
Biden says he told Putin 'human rights is always going to be on the table'
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President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that during their summit in Geneva he challenged Russia’s president Vladimir Putin on human rights including the detention of Alexei Navalny, as well as cyber crime committed by Russian-based actors.

Speaking at a news conference after the summit on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Biden called for a “stable and predictable” relationship between the two Cold War superpowers while warning that there would be consequences for violating international norms.

“I made it clear to President Putin that we will continue to raise cases of fundamental human rights, because that’s who we are,” Mr Biden said on Wednesday.

The president stressed several times during his prepared remarks and subsequent Q&A with journalists that he did not threaten Mr Putin with specific US responses to issues such as interference in US elections or ransomware attacks targeting public and private US targets, but said that he made clear what actions the US could not tolerate.

Mr Biden added that his administration would, however, continue to raise allegations of human rights abuses in Russia, which he characterised as a core value of the US. Actions including election interference, Mr Biden argued, damaged Russia’s image around the world.

“What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he has engaged in? It diminishes the standing of a country that desperately is trying to maintain its standing as a world power,” Mr Biden said.

When asked specifically about the possible death of Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition figure who has remained in prison for months after surviving an assassination attempt the US and other countries have blamed on Moscow, Biden answered that he “thought the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia”.

“I told President Putin my agenda is not against Russia or anyone else. It is for the American people,” Mr Biden said in his remarks.

“So human rights is always going to be on the table, I told him. It’s not about just going after Russia when they violate human rights, it’s just who we are,” he continued.

His press briefing came minutes after Mr Putin held his own news conference after the two-hour long meeting, where the Russian leader described the summit as successful.

The two countries will resume normal diplomatic relations with their respective diplomatic staff returning to embassies, according to Mr Putin.

Despite calling the summit “constructive” in his remarks, Mr Putin went on to argue that "everything to do with the deterioration of our mutual relations was initiated not by us but by the USA,” and responded defensively to questions about the treatment of Mr Navalny and his other political opponents.

The two-hour summit on Wednesday followed Mr Biden’s attendance at the G7 in Cornwall over the weekend as well as the NATO summit earlier this week.

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