WHITE HOUSE – Officials in Washington are reacting calmly to Moscow summoning home its ambassador to the United States for consultations about the deteriorated bilateral relationship.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, in explaining Anatoly Antonov’s temporary return home, stated: “The most important thing for us is to identify ways of rectifying Russia-U.S. relations, which have been going through hard times as Washington has, as a matter of fact, brought them to a blind alley. We are interested in preventing an irreversible deterioration in relations, if the Americans become aware of the risks associated with this.”
The announcement from Moscow came shortly after a taped ABC television interview aired Wednesday morning in which U.S. President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “will pay a price” for his malevolent actions.
Biden also recounted in the interview that he had told Putin, “I don’t think you have a soul.” He said Russian leader replied, “We understand each other.”
Asked by the ABC interviewer if he believes Putin is a killer, Biden replied, “I do.”
According to a RAND Corporation adjunct senior fellow, William Courtney, “It is rare for a U.S. president to refer to the leader of a major adversarial power as a killer.”
Courtney, who was a negotiator in U.S. defense talks with the Soviet Union, told VOA that “sometimes ambassadors are withdrawn after insults.”
“And, of course, the Biden administration is talking about more sanctions with regard to the SolarWinds cyberattack. So, both of those could be factors” in the move by Moscow, he said.
At Wednesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to specify whether the president believes the Russian president, literally or metaphorically, is a killer.
“He’s not going to hold back in his direction communications [with Russia]. He’s not going to hold back publicly,” Psaki said.
When asked about Moscow recalling its ambassador, the press secretary said Biden’s administration “is going to take a different approach in our relationship to Russia than the prior administration. …We are going to be straightforward and we are going to be direct in areas where we have concerns.”
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter told reporters “even as we work to work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we’ll be able to hold Russia accountable for any of their malign actions.”
The Biden administration has expressed interest in working with Moscow on areas of mutual concern, such as a new nuclear arms pact and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Biden earlier ordered the release of a declassified version of an intelligence assessment that “Russian state media, trolls, and online proxies, including those directed by Russian intelligence, published disparaging content about President Biden, his family, and the Democratic Party, and heavily amplified related content circulating in U.S. media, including stories centered on his son.”
Russia, as well as Iran, according to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, engaged in broader efforts to undermine U.S. public confidence in the election.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the U.S. intelligence report was “wrong and has absolutely no foundation and evidence.”
The U.S. government on Wednesday also announced additional sanctions on Russia for using chemical weapons against dissidents.
The Commerce Department said it is blocking export of items controlled for national security reasons that are destined for Russia. It is also suspending licenses that granted specific exceptions for exports to Russia, targeting replacement parts and equipment, technology and software and “additional permissive re-exports.”
Putin enjoyed a more amicable relationship during the past four years with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. During his presidency, Trump frequently praised Putin and rejected intelligence community conclusions that Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election in which the property investor with no political experience defeated former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.