President Biden Warns Putin Over Russian Cyberattacks

US President Joe Biden has reportedly promised ‘retaliation’ if Russia attacks a list of 16 ‘critical’ facilities in America.

President Biden made the comments during a three hour meeting in Geneva with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

While some may hope the US President making the comments directly to the face Russian leader will cause that country to reconsider its cyber campaigns, many believe nothing will actually change.

Positive meeting?

The US President did however try to constructively engage with the Russian leader, CNN reported.

“The tone of the entire meeting was good, positive,” President Biden was reported as saying. “The bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.”

Vladimir Putin gave a somewhat similar description.

“He’s a balanced and professional man, and it’s clear that he’s very experienced,” Putin said. “It seems to me that we did speak the same language.”

President Biden was open about the areas on which he confronted Putin – including election meddling and human rights.

And even before the meeting took place, the US President made clear that cyberattacks – in particular the recent spate of ransomware hacks waged by criminal syndicates operating inside Russia – would make up a major part of his talks.

President Biden has stated that countries such as Russia have a responsibility to tamp down on cybercrime originating in their countries.

Last month, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab publicly warned Russia it cannot continue to shelter criminal gangs carrying out ransomware attacks on Western nations.

At the G7 and NATO meeting, President Biden reportedly convinced fellow western leaders to include language in their final statements backing him up.

Retaliation promise

And the only actual outcome from the talks between the two men on Wednesday, was an agreement to task experts to “work on specific understandings on what’s off-limits and to follow up on specific cases,” CNN reported.

President Biden revealed a telling aspect of his attempts to convince Putin of the seriousness of the cyber crimes: “Well how would you feel if ransomware took down the pipelines from your oil fields?” he said he told Putin.

Biden did not say how Putin responded, CNN reported.

But he said he told Putin the US has “significant cyber capability” and would respond to further cyberattacks.

“He knows it,” President Biden said. “He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but he knows it’s significant. If in fact they violate his basic norms, we will respond.”

Ever since 2011 the United States said it reserved the right to retaliate with military force against a cyber attack from a hostile state.

However that is unlikely against Russia, but cyber retaliation is now most certainly on the table.

Press conferences

Both Presidents held separate conferences after the meeting.

President Biden reportedly got annoyed at a question from a CNN reporter during his press conference.

“Why are you so confident Vladimir Putin will change his behaviour Mr President?”, a CNN reporter asked.

“I am not confident he will change his behaviour,” President Biden retorted. “What the hell, what do you do all the time?”

Biden later spoke to the media after the encounter and said he was sorry for behaving like a “wise guy.”

Alexei Navalny

But Vladimir Putin had an even more uncomfortable time when he faced some hard hitting questions from western reporters, which he is not used to as much of the free media in Russia is effectively muzzled.

ABC News reporter Rachel Scott for example confronted Putin about human rights violations and opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is now in prison after surviving an assassination attempt by poison last year.

“The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned, or jailed is long … and you have now prevented anyone who supports [Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny] to run for office,” ABC’s Scott was quoted by saying by CNN. “So my question is, Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?”

Putin responded by describing the organisation founded by Navalny, whom he did not name, as “extremist” in nature and said it had called for “mass disorder” and breaking laws.

Putin then referenced Black Lives Matter protests and said there was “disorder” and “destruction” in the US after the death of George Floyd, whom he also did not name.

Putin said that Russia felt “sympathy” for the US and doesn’t want such demonstrations to happen within its borders.

The ABC reporter however rejected Putin’s sidestep.

“You didn’t answer my question, sir,” she told the Russian President. “If all your political opponents are dead, in prison, poisoned – doesn’t that send a message that you don’t want a fair political fight?”

Looking somewhat flustered, Putin then talked about the 6 January attack on the US Capitol, suggesting a false equivalence between the insurrectionists arrested for rioting and the political opponents of Putin imprisoned in Russia.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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