'What the hell?': Biden snaps over reporter's Putin question

·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read

A much-anticipated meeting between US president Joe Biden and Russia leader Vladimir Putin was momentarily overshadowed by an exchange between Biden and a CNN reporter following the summit.

It was billed as a showdown between two global adversaries and an important reset in relations between the two countries, but some in the US media were quick to claim Biden was tougher on White House reporter Kaitlan Collins than he was on his Russian counterpart. 

In the final moments of a press conference following the meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Biden grew visibly irritated by a question from Collins about how fruitful the sit-down was.

CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins frustrated the president with the final question of the press conference. Source: Getty Images

"Why are you so confident he [Putin] will change his behaviour, Mr. President?" she asked as he was heading for the exit. 

The president was surprisingly perturbed by the suggestion. 

"I’m not confident he’ll change his behaviour. What the hell — what do you do all the time? 

"When did I say I was confident?

"I said… what I said was... let’s get it straight," he responded walking back towards the reporter. 

"I said what will change their behaviour is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I am not confident of anything. I am just stating the facts."

Joe Biden addresses CNN White House reporter Kaitlin Collins.
Joe Biden later apologised for his 'wise guy' response. Source: CNN

In recent years US intelligence agencies have accused Russia over trying to interfere in its elections, inflame social unrest, and conducting a major cyberattack earlier this year that breached US government networks and major corporations

Putin, meanwhile, continues to operate as an autocrat and silences political rivals and critics, with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny being the most recent high-profile example

"So given his past behaviour has not changed," Collins continued.  

"And in that press conference, after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks, he downplayed human rights abuses, he even refused to say Alexei Navalny’s name. So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as pPresident Putin put it?"

Biden was curt in response. 

"If you don’t understand that, you are in the wrong business," he said.

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While the exchange is barely noteworthy in comparison to the incessant and vindictive attacks on media members by his predecessor, Biden sought to clean up the mess before boarding a flight back to Washington DC.

"I owe my last questioner an apology. I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy for the answer I gave," he told reporters on the tarmac. 

For her part, the CNN reporter later said an apology was "completely unnecessary", but critics were quick to seize on the exchange saying Biden "snapped", while conservative writer Carmine Sabia labelled it "a psychotic meltdown".

Biden told Putin critical infrastructure should be off-limits to cyber attacks 

Both leaders described their first summit as professional, rather than friendly.

But there was no hiding their differences on issues such as human rights, where Biden said the consequences for Russia would be devastating if jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny died, or cyberspace, where Washington has demanded Moscow crack down on ransomware attacks emanating from Russian soil.

Biden asked Putin how he would feel if someone carried out a ransomware attack on Russian oil pipelines, a rather pointed query.

The question referred to a cyberattack that closed the Colonial Pipeline Co system for several days in May, preventing millions of barrels of petrol, diesel and jet fuel from flowing to the US East Coast from the Gulf Coast.

Biden said he told Putin critical infrastructure should be "off-limits" to cyberattacks, saying the list of organisations that should be off-limits included 16 sectors that he did not divulge.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Putin showed little appetite for compromise, dismissing Washington's concerns about Navalny, about Russia's increased military presence near Ukraine's eastern border, and about suggestions that unnamed Russians were responsible for cyberattacks in the United States.

Two leaders locked horns in a relationship reset after Donald Trump cozied up to the Russian president. Source: Getty
Two leaders locked horns in a relationship reset after Donald Trump cozied up to the Russian president. Source: Getty

Putin, 68, called Biden, 78, a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke "the same language", but added there had been no friendship, rather a pragmatic dialogue about their two countries' interests.

Biden said he had told Putin "we need some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by".

In a joint statement issued after the news conferences, the two sides said the meeting showed they were able to make progress on shared goals even in periods of tension.

with Reuters

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