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Russia recalled its ambassador to the US, a major snub, after Biden said he believed Putin is a 'killer'

Business Insider logo Business Insider 3/18/2021 mjankowicz@businessinsider.com (Mia Jankowicz)
Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie: Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 17, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters © Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 17, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters
  • Russia recalled its ambassador to Washington for urgent talks about US-Russia relations.
  • Biden has taken a tough line on Russia, angering Moscow by assessing Putin as a "killer" in a TV interview.
  • It follows new sanctions on Russia over its treatment of Alexei Navalny and election interference.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Russia recalled its US ambassador from Washington after President Joe Biden said he believed President Vladimir Putin is a "killer" in a TV interview.

Asking an ambassador to leave is a form of diplomatic snub meant to express annoyance with the host country.

A Wednesday statement from Russia's foreign ministry did not explicitly refer to Biden or his comments, but said Ambassador Anatoly Antonov was coming back to prevent "an irreversible deterioration in relations."

In an interview aired Wednesday, Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos he agreed with the idea Putin is a "killer" and that Russia will "pay a price" for attempting to meddle in the 2020 US election. He also described Putin as having no soul.

Russia is expected to release a formal reaction to Biden's interview on Thursday, Reuters reported.

The interview followed the Tuesday release of a report from the National Intelligence Council (NIC) which found Russia had attempted to push "misleading and unsubstantiated" lines on Biden to close associates of President Donald Trump.

Read more: America isn't in a cyberwar with Russia and China - it's actually the most sophisticated spy game in human history. And the US is much stronger than it looks.

The report also said that Russia "laundered" anti-Biden and conspiratorial narratives through some elements of US media.

Soon after the ABC News interview, Russia took the highly unusual step of removing Antonov "for consultations in order to analyse what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States," its foreign ministry statement said.

Biden's interview statement went down badly in Moscow. Pro-Putin lawmaker Artur Chilingarov called for a "tough reaction," Reuters reported, while Putin's Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov called it a "very bad comment."

Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy chairman of Russian parliament's upper house, demanded an apology from Biden over the comment, Reuters reported.

The move also comes amid western condemnation of the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny in January. US intelligence says it has "high confidence" that Russia was behind the politician's poisoning last year.

The US has responded by calling on Russia to release him, and imposing sanctions earlier this month.

Asked about Russia's diplomatic snub in a White House press conference Wednesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "our administration is going to take a different approach in our relationship to Russia than the prior administration," a reference to the largely uncritical stance former President Donald Trump took on Putin.

"We are going to be straightforward and we are going to be direct in areas where we have concerns."

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