Russian President Vladimir Putin declined to directly answer a question Wednesday about his authoritarian rule and the jailing and premature deaths of his political opponents.
“The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long,” said ABC News reporter Rachel Scott during a press conference following Putin’s meeting with President Biden in Switzerland. She then mentioned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been in prison since January after surviving an attempted poisoning.
“Alexei Navalny’s organization calls for free and fair elections and 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 for you, Mr. President, is what are you so afraid of?”
Putin said Navalny’s organization was extremist in nature, promoting disorder in the country and breaking the law, and then cited the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd last year.
“America just recently had very severe events after a killing of an African American, and an entire movement developed known as Black Lives Matter,” Putin said.
“I’m not going to comment on that, but here’s what I do want to say: What we saw was disorder, destruction, violations of the law. We feel sympathy for the United States of America, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory, and we’re doing our utmost in order to not allow it to happen. Fear has nothing to do with anything.”
Scott pressed the Russian leader on his answer.
“You didn’t answer my question, sir,” Scott said. “If all of your political opponents are dead, in prison, poisoned, doesn’t that send a message that you don’t want a fair political fight?”
In his reply, Putin cited the charges filed against rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, stating that the supporters of former President Donald Trump who interrupted the official confirmation of Biden’s win had “political demands.”
“As for who is killing whom and throwing whom in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands. Over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them, they face prison sentences of up to 20, maybe even 25 years,” Putin said. “They’re being called domestic terrorists, they’re being accused of a number of crimes.”
Putin also cited the death of Ashli Babbitt, a Jan. 6 rioter who was shot by Capitol Police and has been promoted as a martyr by some Republicans. Putin had mentioned her death during an interview with NBC News earlier this week.
“Some people died, and one of the people that died was shot on the spot by the police, although they were not threatening the police with any weapons,” Putin said.
As he was pushed by reporters on the numerous human rights violations committed by his regime, Putin pointed to gun violence in the U.S., the country’s wars in the Middle East and the continued operation of the Guantánamo Bay prison. He is not the first Russian leader to accuse the U.S. of hypocrisy on human rights, a tactic that dates back to the Soviet era.
When asked on Wednesday afternoon about Putin’s comments linking his suppression of dissidents in Russia to unrest in the U.S., Biden was dismissive.
“I think that’s a ridiculous comparison,” Biden told reporters.
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