Putin Says the U.S. Wants to Hold Back Russia’s Development

Putin Says the U.S. Wants to Hold Back Russia’s Development

16:09 - In advance of a summit with Biden this month, the Russian leader called for improved relations with Washington

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia—Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would try to improve strained relations with the U.S. at his coming summit with President Biden and accused Washington of trying to stifle Russia’s development.

“We have no disagreements with the United States, we have only one disagreement: their desire to hold back our development,” Mr. Putin said Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia’s flagship investment event. “We should try to find ways to settle Russian-U.S. relations.”

The face-to-face meeting between the two leaders scheduled for June 16 in Geneva comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and the U.S. Since taking office, Mr. Biden has imposed sweeping new sanctions against Moscow for alleged transgressions, including interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a cyberattack on U.S. government and corporate computer networks, and the Kremlin’s alleged attempt to assassinate opposition leader Alexei Navalny by poisoning him last year—accusations that Moscow rejects.

Mr. Putin said Russian-American relations have become hostage to U.S. domestic politics and U.S. sanctions against Russia “remain a mystery in many respects,” he said.

The Russian leader said he hoped that one day the influence of U.S. internal politics on bilateral relations would end, given the two countries’ “fundamental interests in the field of at least security, strategic stability and the reduction of weapons dangerous for the whole world are still more important.”

Messrs. Biden and Putin are expected to cover a range of topics including nuclear arms, climate change and Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere in foreign elections, which Moscow has denied.

In an interview with state television after his forum appearance, Mr. Putin called Mr. Biden “a very experienced man, who has been in politics all his life.”

“I very much hope that our meeting will be held in a positive manner,” Mr. Putin said. However, he said, “I don’t expect any breakthrough in Russian-American relations, nothing that could amaze us all with its results.”

The White House has said Mr. Biden would use the meeting to underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty amid a surge of Russian troops on the border of its smaller neighbor, which the West views as a bulwark against Russia. The military buildup reached numbers not seen not seen since just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Moscow said in April that it has begun to withdraw its forces, but Ukrainian and Western officials have indicated that most troops have remained in place.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Russia was harboring many of the known users of ransomware. U.S. authorities have attributed this week’s attack on JBS SA, the world’s biggest meat company by sales, to a criminal ransomware gang in Russia.

Mr. Putin dismissed the accusations on Friday.

“It’s just laughable,” he said in his television interview. There are “those who are trying to provoke some new conflicts before our meeting with Biden,” he said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Mr. Biden expects to discuss Ukraine, cybersecurity—including the recent ransomware attacks—and other key issues during his conversation with Mr. Putin.

“I don’t think we’re setting this up to be a meeting where there’s going to be an outcome that resolves every issue or every challenge in our relationship,” she told reporters at the White House.

The Biden administration has said that the president would also communicate his concerns over the recent diversion of a Ryanair flight by Belarus, where authorities arrested a young activist when the plane landed in Minsk, and Russia’s support for its leader, Alexander Lukashenko.

On Friday, Mr. Putin declined to comment on the plane incident, saying he didn’t want “to assess the political processes that are taking place in Belarus.”

Mr. Putin also told the forum that Russia has finished laying the first line of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany. The second line of the project still has to be completed and Russian officials hope to finish the project this year, despite opposition in Washington and Brussels.

U.S. and European officials have repeatedly said that the project would increase Moscow’s influence in Europe and weaken Ukraine, which hosts another gas-transit network.

“This is a purely economic, commercial project,” Mr. Putin said. “We have said this a hundred times, and all the same, the propaganda boggles people’s heads.”

The Kremlin leader said Friday that Russia could ditch the dollar in its energy trade with Europe and use the euro instead, in another possible step of weaning Russia’s economy off the greenback. His comments come a day after Russia’s finance ministry announced that it would completely eliminate the dollar from the $186-billion National Wealth Fund.

The U.S. uses the dollar “as an instrument of competitive and political struggle, which damages its role as the world reserve currency,” Mr. Putin said.

The Russian president used his appearance at the forum to task his government with preparing a way for foreign citizens to pay to get vaccinated in Russia against Covid-19, expanding the Kremlin’s efforts to push vaccine diplomacy.

Mr. Putin slammed what he characterized as politically motivated discrimination by other governments against Russia’s vaccine. When Sputnik V was first approved for use in Russia in August, it faced criticism from Western officials and scientists for its fast-tracked development and initial lack of large-scale clinical trials. The vaccine hasn’t yet been greenlighted by the European Union’s drug regulator or the World Health Organization, which are both still evaluating it.

He also called for fresh government support for the Russian economy, including loans for small- and medium-size businesses, help for families and low-interest loans that regional authorities can tap to improve their infrastructure.

The Russian economy shrunk by 3% in 2020, its worst decline in over a decade. Smaller businesses have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, with 60% reporting a crushing impact, compared with one-third of large firms, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs said earlier this year.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for later in 2021, Mr. Putin aims to retain the support of Russians, who in recent years have faced a drop in real disposable income and declining living standards.

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