MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin responded Thursday to U.S. President Joe Biden's description of the Russian leader as a killer by citing America's past and present troubles, from slavery and the slaughter of American Indians to racial injustice.
Biden was asked in an interview this week whether he thought Putin was a killer, and he replied, "I do," a remark that prompted Russia to recall its ambassador in Washington for consultations and warn about further retaliation.
Biden has taken a tough stance on Russia, saying that the days of the U.S. "rolling over" to Putin are done.
Putin was asked about Biden's comment during a video call marking the anniversary of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, and he responded with an "it-takes-one-to-know-one"-style remark, saying his counterpart's words reflected the United States' own problems. At the same time, he offered to have a phone call with Biden to discuss issues of mutual interest.
The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny has said Putin is responsible for nearly killing him; the Kremlin has denied it has any connection to the toxic attack. After recovering in Germany for five months, Navalny returned to Russia in January and was immediately jailed.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Biden will continue to look to work with Putin on areas of mutual concern such as efforts to stem Iran's nuclear program and, more broadly, nuclear nonproliferation. But she said that Biden is "not going to hold back" when he has concerns about Putin's actions.
Psaki added that Biden did not regret referring to Putin as a killer and pushed back against suggestions that the rhetoric was unhelpful.
"President Biden has known President Putin for a long time," Psaki said. "They've both been on the global stage for a long time, worked through many iterations of a relationship between the United States and Russia. And he believes we can continue to do that."
Psaki also dismissed Putin's response.
"The president believes that one of the greatest attributes of the United States is our honest self-reflection, and our constant striving for progress and there's always more work to do," she said.
Putin in his remarks pointed at the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan during World War II, as well as its history of slavery and slaughtering American Indians, noting the painful legacies weighing on the United States.
"Otherwise, where would the Black Lives Matter movement come from?" he said, citing racial injustice and the killing of Black Americans.
The exchange of tough statements follows a declassified report from the U.S. national intelligence director's office that found Putin authorized influence operations to try to help Trump in his failed bid to win reelection in November. The Kremlin has dismissed the report as baseless.
"[Putin] will pay a price," Biden said in the interview, asked about the declassified report.
Biden's administration warned that Russia would face sanctions soon over its attempt to influence last year's U.S. election and the Solar Wind hacks.
The spiraling tensions have brought U.S.-Russian relations to the point where they were at the end of President Barack Obama's administration, a chilly strain that differed markedly from President Donald Trump's efforts to court Putin.
Asked what he would tell Biden in response to his remarks, Putin said: "I would tell him: 'Be well.' I wish him health, and I say that without any irony or joking."
In his comments on Biden's interview, Putin responded with a Russian schoolyard expression suggesting that Biden's accusations revealed more about him than the Russian president. The phrase can be roughly translated as, "I know you are, but what am I?"
"It's not just a rhymed childish joke; it has a deep psychological meaning: We see our own qualities in another person, we think he's like us and judge him accordingly," he added.
He noted that Russia would still cooperate with the United States where and when it supports Moscow's interests, adding that "a lot of honest and decent people in the U.S. want to have peace and friendship with Russia."
Speaking in separate comments later Thursday, Putin said he would ask the Foreign Ministry to arrange a call with Biden in the next few days to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, regional conflicts and other issues.
"We must continue our relations," he noted. "Last time, President Biden initiated a call and now I would like to offer President Biden to continue our discussions. It would be in the interest of both Russian and the U.S. people and other countries, bearing in mind that we bear a special responsibility for global security as the largest nuclear powers."
Information for this article was contributed by Aamer Madhani and Geir Moulson of The Associated Press; and by Isabelle Khurshudyan of The Washington Post.