Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to compare crackdowns on his political enemies and the arrests of anti-government protesters in his country to the events of 6 January in an interview published Monday by NBC News.
Speaking with journalists in Moscow, Mr Putin claimed that the US and other countries had no evidence for allegations of election interference, ransomware attacks and other malicious activities for which the west has blamed Russia or Russia-based actors in recent years.
He also pointed to the arrests of hundreds of suspected participants in US Capitol riot on 6 January as evidence that the Biden administration or US was targeting Americans based on their political opinions.
“Did you order the assassination of the woman who walked into the Congress and who was shot and killed by a policeman?” Mr Putin said, referring to Ashli Babbitt, a California woman who died during the riot after being shot by a member of US Capitol Police, who was cleared of wrongdoing in her death.
“Do you know that 450 individuals were arrested after entering the Congress? And they didn’t go there to steal a laptop. They came with political demands,” said Mr Putin.
The US, he reasoned, was guilty of the same intolerance for political dissent as his government has been accused of harbouring. Mr Putin’s government in recent months has cracked down on an organisation run by Alexei Navalny, a top critic of the Russian president, and requested that a court order it to be classified as an extremist organisation.
Mr Navalny remains in prison after surviving an assassination attempt via Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. The US, UK, and numerous other western nations have blamed Russia for the attack, which Mr Putin has denied.
“We don’t have this kind of habit, of assassinating anybody,” Mr Putin said in the interview with NBC.
Of intolerance for dissenting political opinions, he added: “We have a saying: ‘Don’t be mad at the mirror if you are ugly. It has nothing to do with you personally. But if somebody blames us for something, what I say is, why don’t you look at yourselves? You will see yourselves in the mirror, not us.”
Mr Putin’s interview comes days before he is expected to meet with President Joe Biden face-to-face for the first time since Mr Biden took office in January. The two are set to talk in Geneva, Switzerland next week.
Mr Biden defended his plans to speak with Mr Putin about a range of issues including election interference and ransomware attacks, despite Mr Putin’s denials, in comments to reporters at the G7 in Cornwall over the weekend.
“I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet,” Mr Biden said on Sunday at a news conference.
“We are not looking for conflict [with Russia],” the president added. “We are looking to resolve those issues we think are at odds with international norms.”