President Biden on Monday wouldn’t repeat his assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “killer,” calling him a “worthy adversary” as he prepares for a showdown with Mr. Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Belgium, the president said he will seek areas of cooperation with Mr. Putin, after Moscow’s interference in U.S. elections, cyberattacks originating in Russia and human-rights violations.
“What I’ll convey to President Putin is that I’m not looking for conflict with Russia, but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities,” Mr. Biden told reporters. “And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values.”
Asked if he still believes Mr. Putin is a “killer,” as he stated in March, Mr. Biden paused for an awkwardly long time before giving a forced laugh. He noted that Mr. Putin also laughed at the question from a U.S. journalist.
“I’m laughing, too,” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t think it matters a whole lot in terms of this next meeting we’re about to have. I’m hoping that President Putin concludes that there is some interest … in changing the perception that the world has in him.”
Referring to a previous meeting with Mr. Putin years ago, Mr. Biden said, “He’s bright, he‘s tough. I found that he is, as they say when I used to play ball, a worthy adversary.”
The president did say that it would be a “tragedy” if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in prison.
“It would do nothing but hurt [Mr. Putin’s] relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” Mr. Biden said.