Russia has recalled its ambassador to the U.S. in a dramatic escalation in the fraught relations between the two powers – after President Joe Biden referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a ‘killer.’
The move comes after the White House has spent weeks telegraphing a tougher posture toward Russia under a Biden administration – and Moscow has once again bristled at accusations that it serves as a ‘malign’ influence in global affairs.
Fueling the rising tensions is a startling new assessment by U.S. intelligence that lays out Russia’s campaign to influence the 2020 elections – on the heels of the Treasury Department slapping sanctions on officials as retaliation for the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny with a chemical agent. Among those hit with sanctions was the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the FSB.
The extraordinary move by Moscow – a gesture undertaken by nations wishing to send a serious diplomatic signal – came after Biden not only ripped into Putin but vowed the Russian strongman would ‘pay a price.’
It was just the latest time when the new Biden team has sought to draw a sharp line on Russia distinguishing it from former President Donald Trump – who repeatedly praised Putin and even appeared to take Putin’s side when he denied allegations of election interference during their infamous summit in Helsinki.
Despite Trump’s repeated efforts to forge better ties with Moscow even after its election hacking, his administration tightened sanctions on Russia under laws enacted after his election meant to add pressure to sanctions already in place following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Biden made his comment about the ‘price’ Putin would pay just after the U.S. Director of National Intelligence released a report that assessed Russian intelligence officials fed disinformation to Donald Trump allies about the Bidens during the 2020 campaigns as part of an election influence effort.
It even said proxies for Putin himself pushed ‘misleading or ‘unsubstantiated’ allegations about Biden during the campaign. Some of those attacks were amplified by President Trump, who regularly went after Biden for ‘corruption’ and brought up Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine, and who the intel report assessed Russia preferred in the election.
‘The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, has been invited to come to Moscow for consultations conducted with the aim of analyzing what should be done and where to go in the context of ties with the United States,’ according to a statement by Russia’s foreign ministry.
Russian officials now say they will consult with its Washington envoy on the Kremlin’s ties with the U.S. but stressed it wanted to prevent an ‘irreversible deterioration’ in relations.
Even with the high stakes drama between nuclear powers, recalling an ambassador can sometimes be less than meets the eye.
In 1988, Russia recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Great Britain to protest joint raids against Iraq. But it had little effect. ‘Recalling an ambassador for consultations means absolutely nothing,’ said former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jack Matlock. ‘It’s just a gesture.’ he said as quoted in a lengthy thesis by Olivia McCaffrey: ‘Silent Statecraft: The Revocation of Ambassadors as a Diplomatic Tool.’
Joe Biden said in a sit-down with ABC News that aired Wednesday morning that Russia would ‘pay a price’ for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election
The U.S. had already hinted that additional sanctions on Russians are coming before the release of the 15-page declassified version of the report.
Asked about Biden’s ‘killer’ comment at the White House Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded: ‘I don’t have anything more for you to provide analysis on that.’
She also defended Biden’s posture, saying he ‘does not hold back on his concerns about what we see as malign and problematic actions’ by Russia. She listed election interference, reported bounties on U.S. troops, and the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
On August 20, 2020, Navalny was poisoned with a Novichock nerve agent. Navalny was flying into Moscow when he became extremely ill and was hospitalized in Omsk, Russia after an emergency landing.
The opposition leader was transferred to a hospital in Berlin, Germany two days later – and ended up being hospitalized for more than a month.
He was discharged on September 22.
Russian prosecutors refused to open a criminal probe into Navalny’s poisoning, claiming there was no evidence a crime had been committed.
Navalny returned to Russia after fleeing the country following his poisoning. His conviction and sentencing, which followed his claims of evidence showing corruption by Putin, led to nationwide protests.
On Wednesday the Commerce Department said it was ratcheting up sanctions on some Russian exports in response to Navalany’s poisoning. They related to aviation and space equipment.
It tightened sanctions put in place following the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer in Great Britain.
‘He’s not going to hold back on his direct communications,’ Psaki said, ‘nor is he going to hold back publicly. And we have still found ways to work together on areas where we have mutual interests.’
Biden lashed out at the Kremlin in an interview that aired Wednesday morning. ‘He will pay a price,’ Biden told ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, without offering specifics.
‘We had a long talk, he and I. I know him relatively well and the conversation started off, I said, ‘I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred then be prepared.’
Among the startling assessments of the DNI’s report is that Russia will likely continue its election influence campaign, despite being publicly identified. The Kremlin considers it to be a ‘manageable risk,’ according to the report.
Recalled: Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov was returned to Moscow for ‘consultations’ after Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’
When pushed on what the consequences would be, the president said: ‘The price he’s going to pay, well, you’ll see shortly.’
Biden said he wouldn’t reveal exactly what consequences he would levy, but did indicate it is in America and Russia’s ‘interest to work together’
Biden’s comments come as his Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a report revealing that the agency concluded while Putin did authorize an influence campaign, Russia did not target U.S. election processes in the 2020 contest.
According to the assessment, the Kremlin did not make ‘persistent efforts’ on election infrastructure.
‘We had a long talk, he and I. I know him relatively well,’ Biden said of his Russian counterpart, adding that he said during the talk: ”I looked in your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul.’ He looked back and said, ‘We understand each other”
‘The president’s relationship and this administration’s relationship with the Russians will be very different from what we’ve seen over the last four years,’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told DailyMail.com
RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN THE 2020 ELECTION
Here are some of the stories the Kremlin pushed:
– Corruption allegations against Biden’s son Hunter, claiming he had communicated with a Ukrainian official about meeting his father – who at the time was vice president. The report released Tuesday details that Derkach and Kilimnich ‘helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020.’ Likely referencing conservative outlet One America News, which announced January 2020 a three-part documentary series called ‘The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder with guest host Michael Caputo.’
– Moscow engaged in ‘information laundering’ by launching a massive propaganda campaign where Russia-affiliated news websites created fake reports with the expectation the stories would be spread by more legitimate news outlets. Some were picked-up by large U.S. outlets, causing certain disinformation campaigns to go viral.
– Media narratives were also ‘heavily amplified’ by a slew of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter – some run by bots – pushing disinformation. The DNI report indicates the message was pushed by ‘Russian state media, trolls, and online proxies, including those directed by Russian intelligence.’ The goal from these accounts was to amplify election-related content and stir up conspiracy theories, especially related to the COVID-19 pandemic and media censorship – hot topics in the U.S. political sphere.
– Hunter’s laptop scandal is one of the most notable instances of potential Russian influence in the 2020 elections – although it’s still unclear what is true and not. The New York Post released a story last year detailing the contents of Hunter Biden’s harddrive, which was supposedly left at a laptop repair shop and turned over by the owner to then Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. While the contents of the article are still a topic of debate, 50 former senior intelligence officials signed onto a letter claiming the story ‘has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.’
The new report did find that Russian proxies tried to ‘launder’ their efforts to swing the election in favor of Donald Trump through people close to the former president.
The White House assured that Biden is taking a different approach with Russia and Putin than Trump – referring to criticism of the former president for his closer-than-comfortable relationship with the oppressive leader.
‘The president’s relationship and this administration’s relationship with the Russians will be very different from what we’ve seen over the last four years – and we’ve already seen evidence of that from his first phone call with President Putin,’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told DailyMail.com during a press briefing on Wednesday.
‘President Biden has been clear that the United States will also respond to a number of destabilizing Russian actions,’ she continued, adding there are several new investigations related to relations with the Kremlin.
‘The Russians have intervened, or attempted to intervene, in elections for many years – I mean, long before 2016. We certainly are eyes-wide-open about that and fully aware of that,’ Psaki said.
‘We are not going to look the other way, as we saw a bit over the last four years, and we will continue to press them on their actions,’ she continued in reference to election interference and allegations of poisoning opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
During Biden’s interview, which aired during ‘Good Morning America’ on Wednesday, the president called his Russian counterpart a ‘killer’ and claimed he has no soul.
‘So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he is a killer?’ Stephanopoulos asked Biden.
He responded: ‘Uh-huh, I do.’
A bit earlier, the ABC anchor pointed out: ‘You said you know he doesn’t have a soul.’
‘I did say that to him, yes,’ the president affirmed.
‘And his response was, ‘We understand one another.’ I wasn’t being a wise guy. I was alone with him in his office. That’s how it came about,’ he described.
‘It was when President Bush said he looked in his [Putin’s] eyes and saw his soul. I said, ‘I looked in your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul.’ He looked back and said, ‘We understand each other.”
Biden continued: ‘Look, the most important thing in dealing with foreign leaders in my experience and dealt with an awful lot over my career is just know the other guy.’
Biden’s interview with ABC was only the second sit-down with the media since taking office January 20 – his first aired right before the Super Bowl early last month.
The president has also yet to hold a news conference with members of the press.
On Tuesday, the White House finally announced Biden would hold a press conference on March 25, more than two months after becoming president.
Biden held a call just a few days after taking office with Putin to talk about a range of issues.
During the call, the White House said Biden demanded Putin ‘unconditionally release’ jailed Kremlin critic and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was taken into custody January 17, 2021.
The new DNI report Tuesday judges that Russia’s campaign in the U.S. elections was aimed at ‘denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.’
‘Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of proxies linked to Russian intelligence to push influence narratives – including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden.’
President Joe Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines found Russia did not target U.S. election infrastructure in 2020
LIST OF PUTIN’S VICTIMS
POLITICIANS, BUSINESSPEOPLE AND DIPLOMATS
Alex Oronov, 69, died March 6, 2017
Ukranian-born millionaire businessman with ties toDonald Trump and Russian business elite died in unexplained circumstances. The naturalized American citizen ran an agricultural business in Ukraine. Oronov also had family ties to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer by way of Cohen’s brother, Bryan, who was Oronov’s partner in an ethanol business in Ukraine.
Boris Nemtsov, died February 2015
In the 1990s, Nemtsov was one of the leaders of post-Soviet Russia’s ‘young reformers.’ He became deputy prime minister and was, for a while, seen as possible presidential material. When Vladimir Putin ultimately succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Nemtsov was initially supportive. However, he grew increasingly critical and in February 2015 – in the midst of military involvement in Ukraine – Nemtsov was shot four times in the back. Putin took ‘personal control’ of the investigation into Nemtsov’s murder, but the killer remains at large.
Boris Berezovsky, died in 2013
Berezovsky was crucial to Putin’s rise to power – including launching a media campaign smearing Boris Nemtsov as he competed to succeed Yeltsin. Soon after Putin took control, however, Berezovsky fell out with the leader and left Russia for self-exile in the United Kingdom. He declared from the UK that he would devote himself to bringing down Putin. At first, Berezovsky’s death was ruled a suicide after he was found dead inside a locked bathroom at his home in London with a noose around his neck in 2013. The coroner’s office could not conclusively determine the cause of death.
Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, died in 2009
Markelov was a human rights lawyer who represented Chechen civilians in human rights cases and journalists who were harassed by the regime after writing articles critical of Putin. Markelov was shot by a masked gunman near the Kremlin and Baburova, a journalist, was fatally shot while trying to help him. Russian authorities said a neo-Nazi group was behind the killings, and two members of the group, who protested that they were framed, were convicted of the deaths.
Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009
Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in police custody in November 2009 after being brutally beaten and denied medical care. He had been working for British-American businessman William Browder to investigate a massive tax fraud case. Magnitsky was arrested after uncovering evidence suggesting that police officials were behind the fraud.
Alexander Litvinenko, died in 2006
The former KGB agent, after leaving, became a vocal critic of the agency. He died three weeks after drinking a cup of tea laced with deadly polonium-210 at a London hotel. An investigation found he was poisoned by Russian agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were acting on orders that had ‘probably been approved’ by Putin. Russia refused to extradite them, and in 2015 the Russian president granted Lugovoi a medal for ‘services to the motherland.’
Sergei Yushenkov, died in 2003
A former army colonel, Yushenkov just registered his Liberal Russia movement as a political party when he was gunned down outside his Moscow home. He was in the midst of gathering evidence to prove Putin was behind one of the 1999 apartment bombings.
Vitaly Churkin, 64, died in February 2017
Russia’s permanent ambassador to the UN died in New York after suddenly becoming ill on his way to work the day before his 65th birthday. It was reported he suffered a heart attack, but an autopsy proved inconclusive.
Andrei Malanin, 55, died in January 2017
The Russian consul in Athens was found dead on the floor of his apartment in Greece. Greek police said there was no evidence of a break-in and he was believed to have died of natural causes.
Alexander Kadakin, 67, died in January 2017
Russia’s ambassador to India reportedly died of heart failure after a ‘brief illness’
Sergei Krivov, 63, died November 8, 2016
The senior Russian diplomat was found unconscious on the grounds outside his office at the Russian consulate in New York. He suffered severe and unexplained head injuries. Russian sources said he had fallen to his death following a heart attack, but a report from medical examiners was inconclusive.
Andrei Karlov, died December 19, 2016
The Russian ambassador to Turkey was killed by a policeman at a photography exhibition
Peter Polshikov, died December 18, 2016
The senior official at the Russian foreign ministry was shot dead in his Moscow apartment on the same day Andrei Karlov died
Oleg Erovinkin, died December 26, 2016
The former KGB chief, who is said to have provided former British MI6 operative Christopher Steele with material for a dossier on Donald Trump, was found dead in the back of his car. Russian officials claimed he died of a heart attack.
Ludmila Zamana Artyom Borovik Oleg Polukeyev Boris Gashev
Georgy Garibyan Oleg Goryansky Raif Ablyashev Sergei Loginov
Pavel Asaulchenko Nikolai Karmanov Valery Kondakov
Igor Domnikov – Struck over the head with a hammer in the stairwell of his apartment building, resulting in a two-month coma
Sergei Novikov – Shot in contract killing in stairwell of his apartment building
Iskander Khatloni – Killed in axe attack outside his apartment
Sergei Ivanov – Important player in political scene as TV director, Ivanov was shot five times in the head and chest in front of his apartment building
Adam Tepsurkayev – Shot at his neighbour’s house
Eduard Burmagin Leonid Grigoryev Andrei Pivovarov Oleg Dolgantsev
Vladimir Kirsanov Andrei Sheiko Elina Voronova Oleg Vedenin
Alexander Babaikin Boris Mityurev
Eduard Markevich – Shot in the back in a contract killing
Svetlana Makarenko Konstantin Pogodin Natalya Skryl Valery Batuyev
Sergei Kalinovsky Vitaly Sakhn-Vald Leonid Shevchenko Valery Ivanov
Alexander Plotnikov Pavel Morozov Nikolai Razmolodin Maria Lisichkina
Sergei Zhabin Nikolai Vasiliev Paavo Voutilainen Igor Salikov
Yelena Popova Leonid Plotnikov Dmitry Shalayev
Oleg Sedinko – Contract killing by explosive in a stairwell
Vladimir Sukhomlin – Off-duty police convicted of his murder
Ali Astamirov – Went missing in Nazran
Yury Tishkov Sergei Verbitsky Alikhan Guliyev Martin Kraus
Alexei Sidorov Alexei Bakhtin Yury Bugrov Pyotr Babenko
Dmitry Shvets – Shot dead outside his TV offices after station received multiple threats for its reporting on local politicians
Yury Shchekochikhin – Died from an acute allergic reaction a few days before his planned trip to the U.S. to discuss with the FBI the results of his journalist investigation into the Three Whales Corruption Scandal that involved high-ranking FSB officials
Yefim Sukhanov Shangysh Mongush Paul Klebnikov Zoya Ivanova
Pail Peloyan Vladimir Naumov Svetlana Shishkina Vladimir Pritchin
Jan Travinsky Maxim Maximov – Body not found
Alexander Pitersky Kira Lezhneva
Vagif Kochetkov – killed and robbed Oksana Teslo – Arson attack
Ilya Zimin Oleg Barabyshkin Vyacheslav Akatov Anton Kretenchuk
Yevgeny Gerasimenko Anatoly Kozulin Anatoly Voronin Vadim Kuznetsov
Alexander Petrov – Murdered with family while on holiday in Altai Republic by under-age murderer
Anna Politkovskaya – Shot in apartment building’s elevator
Yury Shebalkin Konstantin Borovko Ivan Safronov
Leonid Etkind – Abduction and homicide
Marina Pisareva – found dead at her country cottage
Yelena Shestakova – Killer sent to psychiatric prison
Gadji Abashilov – Shot in his car
Ilyas Shurpayev – Strangled with a belt by robbers in Moscow
Mikhail Beketov Beketov – Suffered brain damage and lost a leg after a brutal assault in 2008, died five years later
Magomed Yevloyev – Shot dead while in police custody
Shafig Amrakhov – Shot and wounded by an unknown assailant at his apartment and later died in hospital
Vladislav Zakharchuk – Died in a fire that engulfed a newspaper office
Stanislav Markelov – Shot and killed by a masked gunman
Anastasia Baburova – Died alongside Stanislav Marekelov after being shot
Sergei Protazanov – Found unconscious at his home
Vyacheslav Yaroshenko – Died of wounds from a severe beating
Natalia Estemirova – Kidnapped outside her home, shot several times — including a point-blank shot in the head — and dumped in the nearby woods
Malik Akhmedilov – Found shot dead Maksharip Aushev – Shot
Olga Kotovskaya – Fell out the window on 14th floor of a building. Authorities classified death as suicide while colleagues believe she was murdered
Konstantin Popov – Beaten to death by Russian police while in custody
Ivan Stepanov – Stabbed to death
Maxim Zuyev – Went missing and later found murdered in apartment
Bella Ksalova – Fatally injured after being hit by a vehicle near her home
Malika Betiyeva – Killed along with four members of her family when a speeding vehicle hit hers on a highway
Gadzhimurat Kamalov – Shot six times in a drive-by shooting outside his newspaper’s office
Kazbek Gekkiev – Shot dead after receiving death threats from extremists
Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev – Killed while driving
Timur Kuashev – Abducted from his home and later found dead
Yevgeny Khamaganov – Died of unexplained causes
Nikolay Andrushchenko – Died from wounds he received from a beating
Dmitry Popkov – Found dead from gunshot wounds at a bathhouse
Maksim Borodin – Fell out the window at his apartment. Authorities classified death as suicide while colleagues reject the notion
Denis Suvorov – Found dead after being stabbed
Sergei Grachyov – Went missing, body was found 11 days later
Yegor Orlov – Disappeared, his body was later found in a river
The assessment brings up a range of characters who have already been tied to efforts by Trump allies who sought to muddy Biden by bringing up ties between Biden and his son Hunter in Ukraine.
It describes a network of Ukraine-linked individuals, including ‘Russian influence agent’ Konstantin Kilimnik, who sought to ‘denigrate’ Biden and his campaign. Kilimnik was previously identified as a figure in the Russia probe.
It also sought to discredit the Obama administration by ’emphasizing accusations of corruption by U.S. officials – claims made repeatedly by Trump and his allies.
Moscow also sought to undermine ‘public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbate sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.’ – during a tense campaign and its aftermath that would result in a MAGA mob storming the Capitol when Congress met to count the Electoral College votes that made Joe Biden the winner.
The report also identifies Ukrainian parliamentarian Andrii Derkach as someone who tried to use ‘prominent U.S. persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to U.S. officials and audiences.
In this handout photo provided by Adriii Derkach’s press office, Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for U.S President Donald Trump, left, meets with Ukrainian lawmaker Adriii Derkach in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019
Giuliani and Derkach appeared on One American News to charge the Bidens with corruption
The two men met while Giuliani was serving as Trump’s personal lawyer and trying to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. They also appeared jointly on One American News Network, a favorite outlet of Trump’s, where they accused Biden of corruption.
Derkach released edited recordings four times during the campaign in an effort to discredit Biden’s involvement in ‘allegedly corrupt activities,’ the report notes.
But Russia did not make ‘persistent efforts’ on election infrastructure, according to the assessment, which found the feat difficult to pull off and unlikely to avoid discovery.
In late 2019, Russia’s GRU, or military intelligence, conducted a phishing campaign against subsidiaries of Burisma holdings, the Ukrainian company that gave Hunter Biden a lucrative seat on its board. The company became a feature of Trump’s and Giuliani’s attacks on the Bidens.
It was ‘likely’ an attempt to gather information on the Biden family and Burisma.
Russian state media, trolls and proxies published ‘disparaging content’ about Biden, his family, and the Democratic Party.
It ‘heavily amplified’ this content in the U.S. media, ‘including stories centered on his son.’
The line was a possible reference to information that came out late in the campaign that contained information purported to be from Hunter Biden’s laptop. It included multiple damaging photos including one with Hunter smoking what appears to be a crack pipe, as well as explosive information about his business dealings.
Russia and Iran both sought to influence the 2020 election, but China ‘did not deploy’ efforts to interfere, according to a new 15-page report into election interference published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The Russians were responsible for ‘denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the U.S.,’ the report said, according to CNN.
Iran, on the other hand, was working against Trump, the report said.
The report says Russians relied on people close to Trump to get the Kremlin’s message out
‘We assess that Iran carried out a multi-pronged covert influence campaign intended to undercut former President Trump’s re-election prospects – though without directly promoting his rivals – undermine public confidence in the electoral process and U.S. institutions, and sow division and exacerbate societal tensions in the U.S.,’ it said.
Unlike in 2016, the report said that Russia did not make ‘persistent’ efforts to gain access to election infrastructure.
Additionally, it found ‘no indications that any foreign actor attempted to alter any technical aspect of the voting process in the 2020 U.S. elections, including voter registration, casting ballots, vote tabulation, or reporting results.’
The report said that what the Russian government did to was try to seed the 2020 campaign with ‘misleading or unsubstantiated allegations’ against Biden through allies of Trump, which underscores allegations that Trump’s circle was playing into Moscow’s hands by amplifying claims made against Biden by Russian-linked Ukrainian figures.
The report also punctures a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing ‘did not deploy interference efforts.’
‘China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,’ the report said.
U.S. officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although ‘in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran.’
Intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller previously concluded that Russia also interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy with a campaign of propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Biden’s Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said that foreign election influence is an ‘enduring challenge facing our country.’
‘These efforts by U.S. adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions,’ she warned. ‘Addressing this ongoing challenge requires a whole-of-government approach grounded in an accurate understanding of the problem, which the Intelligence Community, through assessments such as this one, endeavors to provide.’