Russian President Vladimir Putin faced stinging questions in Geneva from the international press on Wednesday, including from American reporters, after his summit with President Biden.
Putin, who rarely speaks to independent media, was questioned in frank terms about his treatment of political opponents, the most high profile of whom, Alexei Navalny, is currently jailed and survived being poisoned last year.
“The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned, or jailed is long,” ABC News reporter Rachel Scott said. “Alexei Navalny, his organization called for free and fair elections, an end to corruption. But Russia has outlawed that organization, calling it extremist. And you have now prevented anyone who supports him to run for office. So my question is, Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?”
"What are you so afraid of?"@rachelvscott presses Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin on the pattern of deaths and imprisonment of political opposition in the country, asking if it sends the message he doesn't "want a fair political fight." https://t.co/rcAskrvTY1 pic.twitter.com/A7z8lb6bfw— ABC News (@ABC) June 16, 2021
Putin, deflecting the question, said Navalny’s organization had called for Russians to break the law. He also said that his government was seeking to prevent the kind of demonstrations seen in the United States in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
“You didn’t answer my question, sir,” Scott responded. “If all your political opponents are jailed, in prison, poisoned, doesn’t that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight?”
In response, Putin tried to equate the treatment of political opposition in Russia with the prosecution of members of the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“In many countries, the same thing happens that happens in our country,” he said, according to a translator.
During the press conference, Putin repeatedly tried to redirect questions about human rights abuses in Russia to the United States, pointing to the prison at Guantanamo Bay and civilian casualties during the Iraq War.
“Who is the murderer?” Putin asked at one point, according to a translator, an apparent reference to Biden’s description of him as a “killer.”
Putin’s solo news conference came at the end of several hours of talks with Biden Wednesday. Putin said the pair agreed to restore their nations’ ambassadors, and would work towards replacing an old nuclear weapons treaty. Ahead of the talks, separate news conferences were planned instead of a joint press conference, which White House officials reportedly felt would have elevated Putin on the international stage at a time when the United States and its allies are seeking to put pressure on the authoritarian Russian leader.