Russian leader Vladimir Putin mocked America’s human rights record during a press conference Wednesday following his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden by referring to the continued existence of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, “secret CIA prisons,” and alleged assassinations of U.S. political leaders.
Putin was responding to a reporter who noted, “Americans are continuously using this rhetoric of political prisoners in Russia” and raising the issue of the many Russian dissidents and Putin rivals in the country who have been poisoned, imprisoned, or otherwise harmed in ways suggesting Putin regime involvement. The reporter also noted that Biden had referred to Putin previously as a “killer,” a term Biden did not defend during a separate press conference Tuesday.
“President Biden has indeed touched on the subject of human rights,” Putin said. “We have discussed harsh statements as well.”
Putin said he was “alright” with Biden’s explanation of the “killer” comment before making the case that, despite his extensive record of human rights abuses, America’s alleged sins were the true atrocities.
“Look at it this way: everything that happens in our countries is something that the leadership is responsible for and the president is included. Who stands accused of what, who is the killer,” Putin said. “Look at the American streets. People are getting killed there, those who are leading the various political organizations. You can get a bullet in the back of your neck.”
“A woman just ran away from the police and they shot her in the back,” Putin said, apparently referring to Ashli Babbitt, a participant in the January 6 Capitol riot shot by police that day. Putin had referred to her in a separate interview with NBC News on Tuesday as an alleged victim of American human rights abuses.
“Take Afghanistan. One single [drone] strike can kill … assuming this was a mistake, it happens in a war. But shooting from a drone at an unarmed crowd, clearly the civilian crowd, what is this about? What would you call that and who is responsible for this? And what would you call this person?” He asked. “Who is the killer now?”
“The Guantánamo prison is still operating and it doesn’t even start to resemble what is stipulated in international law or U.S. legislation, and yet it exists. Secret CIA prisons across the globe, including those in European countries where people were tortured,” he continued. “Is this the great human rights record? Would anyone agree here that this is how you protect human rights?”
Putin repeatedly deflected during the press conference away from questions about Alexei Navalny, a political prisoner and opposition leader who German doctors confirmed last year had been poisoned with the Russian chemical weapon Novichok.
The former CIA chief of Russia operations Steven Hall told NPR, “there’s no doubt whatsoever” that Navalny was a victim of a potential assassination attempt by the Russian government.
“There really is no other way to explain this,” Hall said. “And this is something that the Russian intelligence services have been doing literally for decades, if not longer.”
No instances have ever been documented of suspected Novichok use by any entity other than the Russian government, though the difficulty of detecting the nerve agent means few confirmed instances of its use exist.
The most high-profile instance of suspected Novichok use occurred in the United Kingdom in 2018 against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia. The Russian government has consistently denied involvement in the incident, but doctors confirmed the presence of Novichok in the Skripals’ system, leaving few other suspects.