President Biden said in an interview that aired Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will “pay a price” for directing an influence operation targeting the 2020 election with the aim of undermining Biden’s candidacy.
“He will pay a price,” Biden told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “We had a long talk, he and I. I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off and I said, ‘I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.’”
Biden appeared to reference a phone call he had with Putin in January during which he pressed the Russian leader on 2020 election interference, the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other matters about which the Biden administration has raised concerns.
Biden also told Stephanopoulos that he believes Putin to be a killer.
His comments came the same day that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified assessment of foreign influence operations targeting the U.S. election. The report said that both Russia and Iran waged campaigns to influence the election but affirmed there was no evidence that foreign actors attempted to change votes. It also said China considered an election influence operation but did not carry it out.
“We assess that Russian President Putin authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at 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 US,” the report stated.
Russian efforts involved the use of individuals tied to Russian intelligence who pushed “influence narratives” to people close to Trump as well as American media organizations and U.S. officials.
The Russians similarly sought to influence the 2016 election to harm then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and aid Trump, an effort that involved hacking and releasing Democratic emails.
“Unlike in 2016, we did not see persistent Russian cyber efforts to gain access to election infrastructure,” the report released Tuesday stated.
Biden during the ABC News interview would not detail how the U.S. plans to punish Putin for the election meddling efforts, saying they would be made known shortly. He also underscored the need to “walk and chew gum” at the same time by pushing back on Moscow’s bad behavior while working with Russia on limited areas of mutual interest, like nuclear arms control.
The Biden administration agreed with Moscow to a full five-year extension of the New START arms control treaty earlier this year shortly after the new president took office.
US intel says Russia, Iran sought to influence 2020 election
It’s likely that a retaliation for the election interference could take the form of further sanctions on Russia. The Trump administration already imposed sanctions on Russia for its 2016 operation, despite Trump publicly questioning the intelligence community’s assessment about Moscow’s interference.
The Trump-era Treasury Department already designated Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian Ukrainian legislator who promoted false allegations about Biden during the election campaign, last year. Derkach, who was named in the new intelligence report, had contacts with Trump ally Rudy Giuliani.
The Biden administration in early March announced its first sanctions on Russia in response to the Navalny poisoning and jailing.