Russia has recalled its ambassador to the United States “for consultations,” the country’s foreign ministry said Wednesday, just hours after comments from President Joe Biden criticizing Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not cite specific reasons for recalling ambassador Anatoly Antonov, but indicated that relations between Moscow and Washington “have been going through hard times,” blaming Washington for bringing them “to a blind alley.”
In a separate interview on Thursday, Zakharova noted that “consultations” with Antonov will take “as long as they need,” according to Russian state news agency Tass.
While Zakharova did not mention Biden’s comments directly in her statement, Russia’s embassy in the U.S. released its own comment early Thursday blaming “certain ill-considered statements of high-ranking U.S. officials” for putting the “already excessively confrontational relations under the threat of collapse.”
The move to recall Antonov came not long after a television interview, in which Biden was asked whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin is a killer and said “I do.”
Biden confirmed in the interview that he once told Putin that he doesn’t “have a soul” during a visit to the Kremlin as vice president in 2011, to which he said Putin responded, “We understand each other.”
Biden also said Russia would face consequences for meddling in last year’s presidential election after a declassified report from the U.S. national intelligence director’s office found earlier this week that Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in last November’s election.
“(Putin) will pay a price,” Biden told ABC News, asked about the report. Biden did not disclose what price Putin could pay, only saying, “you will see shortly.”
The Kremlin had earlier dismissed the allegations in the report as baseless.
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Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that Biden’s remarks were “very bad.”
“I won’t be wordy in reaction to this,” Peskov said. “I will only say that these are very bad statements by the U.S. president.”
“He definitely does not want to improve relations with our country,” he added.
Peskov said he could not tell whether Putin planned to respond directly to Biden’s comments.
The State Department said Wednesday that it was aware of Russia’s decision to recall the ambassador.
Meanwhile, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said the Biden administration will take a more straightforward and direct approach in its relationship with Russia than former President Donald Trump.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been strained since Biden took office.
The arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny after his poisoning with a nerve agent last year became the first test for the Biden administration in its dealings with the Kremlin.
In coordination with the European Union, the U.S. announced sanctions earlier this month against senior members of the Russian government in connection with Navalny’s poisoning.
The sanctions were the first to target Moscow since Biden became president and opened a comprehensive review of U.S.-Russia policy, including the Kremlin’s actions against Navalny, interference into the U.S. election, the Solar Winds hack and reported bounties offered to Taliban-linked groups to target U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Since Biden’s inauguration, the only moment of cooperation between the two nations came when the U.S. and Russia extended a crucial nuclear arms control treaty last month.
On Thursday, Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian upper house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said Biden calling Putin a killer was a “watershed” moment.
“Any expectations of the new U.S. administration’s new policy on the Russian direction have been written off by this boorish statement,” Kosachev said in a Facebook post.
He called Antonov’s recall an adequate reaction from the Kremlin, adding that it won’t be Russia’s last move unless there is an explanation or apology from the American side.
Tatyana Chistikova contributed.