BRUSSELS — President Joe Biden declined to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of their high stakes summit this week, instead sought to present a united front at the NATO Summit on Monday.
Speaking at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Biden said every world leader he has spoken to on his first foreign trip has publicly supported it despite some reports of division within the alliance.
“Every world leader here that’s a member of NATO that spoke today – and most of them mentioned it – thanked me for meeting with Putin now. Every single one of them that spoke,” Biden told reporters in a press conference. “They all thought it was thoroughly appropriate.”
White House officials have repeatedly tried to site the potential for Biden to send a clear warning to Russia to cease its provocative activity, including, cyberattacks on U.S. federal servers.
However, the president declined to condemn the Kremlin leader or go into details about his goals for the meeting when asked by reporters.
“The last thing I want to do is negotiate in front of the world press as I approach a critical meeting with an adversary and/or someone who could be an adversary,” said Biden in a response to a question.
“He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is — as they say when I used to play ball — a ‘worthy adversary,” he added.
There has been pressure on Biden and the White House to condemn Putin and the Russian government for their recent cyberattacks on U.S. industries, including targeting a major U.S. gasoline pipeline. Following the round of cyberattacks, Biden placed a number of sanctions against more than a dozen Russian individuals and organizations linked to election interference.
When asked by reporters how the United States would respond to the abuse of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which Putin hinted could not survive his imprisonment. Biden said he would not give Russia a free pass.
“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights,” he said. “It would be a tragedy and do nothing but hurt [Putin’s] relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”
Putin had a friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump, which many in the U.S. intelligence community condemned. Trump notably said he believed the Russian president over U.S. intelligence agencies regarding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Trump defended his 2017 Helsinki meeting in a statement last week and mocked Biden in the process.
“Good luck to Biden in dealing with President Putin — don’t fall asleep during the meeting, and please give him my warmest regards,” the statement read.
Monday saw Biden call out Trump’s “phony populism” and slam Republicans in Congress for refusing to condemn it in order to win re-election.
“It is a shock and surprise that what’s happened in terms of the consequence of President Trump’s phony populism has happened,” Biden said. “It is disappointing that so many of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, who I know better, have been reluctant to take on, for example, an investigation because they’re worried about being primaried … That’s why it’s so important that I succeed in my agenda.”