US president Joe Biden said he was open to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s proposal to hand over cybercriminals to the US if Washington did the same for Moscow, just days before the two leaders meet for a summit in Geneva.
Biden and Putin will sit down in Switzerland on Wednesday for their first face-to-face meeting since the former was sworn in as US president. Both leaders said at the weekend that relations between their two countries were at a low point, but Biden’s latest comments suggested there could be room for co-operation.
Speaking at the conclusion of a meeting of G7 leaders in the UK on Sunday, Biden told reporters he was receptive to Putin’s suggestion of reciprocal extradition of cybercriminals responsible for disruptive ransomware attacks.
Earlier on Sunday, Russian state TV aired an interview with Putin in which the Russian president said that Moscow and Washington must “assume equal commitments”.
“Russia will naturally do that but only if the other side — in this case the United States — agrees to the same and will also extradite corresponding criminals to the Russian Federation.”
Asked about Putin’s comments, Biden said: “Yes, I am open to, if there are crimes committed against Russia, that in fact are people committing those crimes are being harboured in the United States, I am committed to holding them accountable.”
“I was told as I was flying here, that [Putin] said that,” Biden added. “I think that is potentially a good sign of progress.”
An increasing number of audacious ransomware attacks has paralysed companies in recent weeks. These have included the disruption of the Colonial Pipeline, which provides petroleum supplies for much of the US east coast, as well as operations at JBS, the Brazilian meat processing company. The White House has said it believes both attacks originated in Russia.
Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, later clarified that Biden had not signed up to a “prisoner swap”.
“What he was saying was that if Vladimir Putin wants to come and say I am prepared to make sure that cyber criminals are held accountable, Joe Biden is perfectly willing to show up and say cyber criminals can be held accountable in America, because they already are. That is what we do,” Sullivan told reporters on Air Force One en route to the Nato summit in Brussels, the second leg of Biden’s first foreign tour as president.
“This is not about exchanges or swaps or anything like that.”
Putin told NBC News in an interview that aired on Friday that relations between the US and Russia were at their “lowest point in recent years”. Biden on Sunday said that he agreed with the characterisation, but also pointed out areas where he believed the two countries could work together.
The White House confirmed on Saturday that Biden would hold a solo press conference following the summit with Putin, rather than share a stage as his predecessor Donald Trump did with the Russian president in Helsinki in 2018.
“This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other,” Biden said. “It is about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship.”
He added: “Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms. But they have also bitten off some real problems they are going to have trouble chewing on. For example, the rebuilding of Syria, of Libya.”
“I am hopeful that we can find an accommodation that can save the lives of people in, for example, Libya.”