Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied that the Kremlin had a hand in cyberattacks on U.S. businesses and infrastructure ahead of his meeting with President Joe Biden.
Biden is expected to press Putin on allegations that Moscow sanctioned cyberattacks against U.S. interests, including the SolarWinds breach that impacted some federal agencies. The FBI and White House officials have said Russia-based cybercriminal gangs have conducted ransomware attacks against several firms recently, including against the Colonial Pipeline system and major meat-producer JBS Foods.
“We have been accused of all kinds of things,” Putin told NBC News in an interview released on June 14. “Election interference, cyberattacks, and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.”
JBS announced last week that it had paid $11 million to a Russian-speaking hacking group that had targeted the firm’s systems, forcing a temporary shutdown in late May. The Colonial Pipeline system was shut down for roughly a week following a ransomware attack allegedly carried out by the criminal gang DarkSide, which is believed to have been based in Russia.
Biden said that intelligence officials don’t believe the Russian government had ties to the ransomware attacks, but suggested the Kremlin take action against criminal gangs.
“The issue of state-sponsored cyberattacks of that scope and scale remains a matter of grave concern to the United States,” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters last week. “It will be a topic of conversation between the presidents.”
Earlier this year, the administration implemented new sanctions against Russian financial institutions over alleged Russian malign actors carrying out cyberattacks, election interference, and the country’s treatment of dissidents—including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Putin of being responsible for poisoning him with a nerve agent.
Following the conclusion of the Group of Seven meeting, Biden told reporters that he agreed with Putin’s recent assessment that U.S.–Russian relations are at a low point.
“Let me make it clear I think he’s right. It’s a low point, and it depends on how he responds to acting consistent with international norms, which in many cases he has not,” Biden said on June 13.
The United States won’t create a conflict with Moscow and will attempt to reach agreements on certain policy issues, he said.
“We are looking to resolve those actions which we think are inconsistent with international norms, number one,” Biden said. “Number two, where we can work together, we may be able to do that in terms of some strategic doctrine that may be able to be worked together, we’re ready to do it. There may be other areas. There is even talk there may be the ability to work together on climate.”
And unlike President Donald Trump, who held a joint press conference with Putin in 2018, Biden told reporters he won’t appear alongside the Russian leader when they meet, and appeared to suggest that it would trigger rampant speculation from the press.
Biden and Putin are scheduled to meet on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland.