“The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned or jailed is long,” she said, including “Alexei Navalny, whose organization calls for free and fair elections and an end to corruption …. So my question, Mr. President: What are you so afraid of?”
The dictator replied by invoking the lie, told by Donald Trump and Republican leaders, that American cities have been convulsed by violence. “America just recently had very severe events after well known events, after a killing of an African American, and an entire movement developed known as Black Lives Matter,” Putin said. “What we saw was disorder, destruction, violations of the law, etc.. We feel sympathy for the United States of America, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory.”
Scott refused the Russians’ demands that she hand over the microphone. “You didn’t answer my question, sir,” she pressed, again asking why his “political opponents are dead, in prison or poisoned.”
This time Putin offered up the fiction, again oft told by Trump and Republican leaders, that the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol was an ordinary political protest. “As for who is killing, whom are throwing whom in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands; over 400 people had criminal charges placed on them,” the dictator replied. “They’re being called domestic terrorists,” he went on, calling the charges “unclear” and claiming people were shot “by the police, although they were not threatening the police with any weapons. … We have no desire to allow the same thing to happen in our country.”
It was a preposterous lie — and finally there is a U.S. president who will say so. At Biden’s own news conference just after Putin’s (the White House declined to hold a joint one for just this reason), PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor asked Biden about Putin’s remarks about BLM and Jan. 6.
“That’s a ridiculous comparison,” Biden said.
The absurdity of the comparison should be obvious to the world. Thanks to Trump and his allies’ disinformation, it isn’t. This is why truth matters.
Republicans, ignoring pleas from U.S. intelligence, echoed Kremlin disinformation in claiming it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and others repeated Russian disinformation in their Biden-Burisma probe. Trump excused Putin’s political murders, saying, “You think we’re so innocent?” And, in Helsinki, he famously accepted Putin’s denials of election interference.
Putin is still dining out on that one. Asked Wednesday by CNN’s Matthew Chance about Russia’s cyberattacks on the United States, Putin replied that the United States is responsible for “most of the cyberattacks in the world,” and that “Russia’s not on the list” of perpetrators.
The civilized world didn’t have to look far to see where such lies lead. Putin and his goons gave a timely demonstration in Geneva of their might-makes-right ways.
At meetings between world leaders, small “pools” of journalists typically attend and report back to other correspondents. But at Wednesday’s summit, a mob of Russian “journalists” — many, of course, state-controlled — shoved their way inside. The mayhem blocked some Americans from the room and drowned out the two leaders’ introductory remarks.
“Russian security yelled at journalists to get out of the rooms and began pushing journalists,” Politico’s Anita Kumar, part of the pool, reported. “Your pooler was pushed multiple times, nearly to the ground, as many poolers tripped over the red rope, which was now almost to the ground.” Another pooler said there was “lots of shoving and grabbing” and “Russian security pulled on our clothes.”
Russian state media then reported that there had been a “stampede” by U.S. journalists.
The truth matters no more to them than it does to Putin — and both, performing in concert at Putin’s news conference, presented a dizzying display of false statements, microphone grabbing and jingoism.
“Our team won. Congratulations,” a correspondent from Komsomolskaya Pravda told Putin. “What do you think is the score in the Putin-Biden meeting?”
Putin, for his part, declared that “all of the activities that have to do with worsening the relations, all of the actions that did that, were not initiated by us.”
Is this how Republicans who parrot Putin’s propaganda want the United States to end up?
Biden, to his credit, opened his news conference with a long statement about Russia’s misconduct. And he promised consequences. He said he informed Putin that “this is not a kumbaya moment.”
Nor should it be. It is a moment for truth.