Putin sees ‘double standard’ in US Capitol riot prosecutionson June 5, 2021 at 12:23 am

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Ahead of a summit with President Joe Biden, Mr Putin also says he expects “no breakthroughs”.

Vladimir Putin gestures

image copyrightGetty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of double standards for its treatment of the Capitol rioters.

He said it was wrong for the US to slam crackdowns on anti-government protests overseas, while prosecuting Americans with “political demands”.

Speaking at a forum in St Petersburg, Mr Putin set expectations low for his summit on 16 June with US President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland.

Ties between the two countries are at their worst since the Cold War.

At the International Economic Forum on Friday, Mr Putin addressed some of the diplomatic bones of contention as he said he expected no breakthroughs during the Biden bilateral.

He denied suggestions that recent cyber-attacks on US companies had originated in Russia, and rejected claims that Moscow had meddled in American elections.

Mr Putin reserved some of his most stinging criticism for US condemnation of a crackdown on anti-government protests by Moscow’s regional ally, Belarus. He hit back by suggesting the US Capitol rioters were being treated unfairly.

“They weren’t just a crowd of robbers and rioters,” Mr Putin said of the Trump supporters who stormed Congress on 6 January and temporarily suspended a session to certify Mr Biden as the winner of last November’s election. “Those people had come with political demands.”

When the forum moderator suggested Mr Putin’s comments about the Capitol riot could see him banned from US social media platforms, the Russian leader drew applause from the audience by retorting: “I don’t give a damn about being blocked somewhere.”

Earlier this week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Capitol rioters were being “persecuted” by the US government.

Some 500 suspects have been arrested for the riot, most of them charged with entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds. Many have been released pending trial, but some are being held in solitary confinement.

A member of Mr Biden’s own Democratic party, Senator Elizabeth Warren, has said some of the defendants were being subjected to “cruel” treatment.

Mr Putin also rebuked the West for its criticism of Russian authorities’ response to anti-Kremlin demonstrations, including jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Russian leader said protesters in Europe have faced an even tougher police response, with some shot in the eye by what he mockingly called “democratic rubber bullets”.

It is not clear what he was referring to, but a number of French demonstrators were blinded by rubber bullets fired by police during the so-called yellow vest rallies that began in late 2018.

The Russian leader’s comments come ahead of his first meeting on 16 June with President Biden since the latter’s election.

Mr Putin said he expected “no breakthroughs” in the meeting to improve the “extremely low level” of relations between the two nations.

In March, Moscow recalled its ambassador to Washington after Mr Biden said Russia would “pay a price” for interfering in the 2020 US election, which the Kremlin denies.

“We don’t have any issues with the US, but it has an issue with us,” the Russian leader said on Friday in a separate interview with the state-backed Channel One TV station.

He also accused the US of trying to stifle Russia’s economy and influence its domestic politics.

“It wants to contain our development and publicly talks about it,” Mr Putin said.

But he suggested the summit could focus on areas of mutual interest, such as fighting climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism.

Despite the tough words, the Russian leader praised Mr Biden as “a very experienced statesman who has been involved in politics for his entire life”.

Mr Putin rejected claims that Russian hackers could have been involved in cyber-attacks on a US pipeline last month and meat-processing plants in the past week.

“I heard something about the meat plant,” he said. “It’s sheer nonsense. We all understand it’s just ridiculous.”

“A pipeline?” he added. “It’s equally absurd.”

He said the accusations probably came from those who wish to “provoke new conflicts before our meeting with Biden”.

Mr Putin also denied that Russia’s secret service had played any role in the diversion of a plane to Minsk, on the orders of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, last month. A Belarusian dissident journalist was arrested once the Ryanair flight landed.

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