President Biden Threatens Russia's Putin Over Cyberattacks On Critical US Infrastructure

President Joe Biden said he warned Vladimir Putin Wednesday that Russian cyber attacks on 'critical' U.S. infrastructure would draw a serious American response – and told his counterpart just how harmful a cyber attack might be on an oil pipeline that is the lifeline of the Russian economy.

Biden threatened retaliation and made his explicit comment publicly even as he denied making any kind of a 'threat' in his meetings with the Russian President as they discussed ransomware attacks that shut down the Colonial pipeline and has other U.S. and multinational businesses on edge.  

His suggestion of the consequences Russia would face came during a contentious press conference where he also shouted at a CNN reporter who yelled out a question asking why he was so confident the Russian strongman would change his behavior, given his denials and his history.  

'I’m not confident I’ll change his behavior. What do you do all the time?' he sneered. 

'When did I say I was confident? I said … What I said was – let’s get it straight,' Biden intoned. 'I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating the facts.'

Minutes after the tense exchange, Biden sought to clean up the incident, speaking with traveling reporters under the wing of Air Force One.

'I shouldn't have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave,' Biden said. 

The reporter Biden chewed out, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, said on air she was 'just doing my job' and said Biden didn't need to apologize. She called it 'completely unnecessary' and said 'he did not have to apologize, though I do appreciate that he did.' 

His comments about what might happen to Russia's petroleum-based economy came as Biden denied threatening Putin, who he has called a 'killer' in the past but said the two men talked through the issue Wednesday and accepted Biden's response.     

'There were no threats. I heard he quoted my mom and quoted other people today,' Biden said. He said he was 'somewhat colloquial.' 

In separate, back-to-back press conferences after their sit down, both leaders expressed satisfaction with the outcome of their meeting and described their conversations in positive terms.

But it was on the area of ransomware attacks that have the potential to knock out critical infrastructure where Biden sought to provide the most specific readout of what he told Putin, as he carried out a plan to try to make the U.S.-Russia relationship more 'predictable.' 

Biden said he had 'told President Putin we need some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by', adding that 'I did what I came to do.' 

He said he gave the Russian president a list of 16 specific entities that should 'be off limits to attack, period, by cyber or any other means,' He didn't name the items on the list but described them as 'critical infrastructure.'

'I talked about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attack, period' Biden said, 'by cyber or any other means. I gave them a list.'  

'I gave them a list. ...16 specific entities defined as critical infrastructure under U.S. policy, from the energy sector to our water system.' 

'Principle is one thing: it has to be backed up by practice,' he said. 'Responsible countries need to take action against criminals who conduct ransomware activity in their territory.' The U.S. asses ransomware hackers are based in Russia and essentially enjoy safe harbor form the government there.

Biden didn't respond to shouted questions about what his posture means for companies and industries that aren't on the red-line list. 

'He knows I will take action,' Biden said. 'I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability. He doesn’t know exactly what it is, but it’s significant.' 

But there were areas where they disagreed, including human rights. 

In his press conference, Putin said the leaders agreed to begin consultations on cyber security. He did not mention Biden threatened him on the issue. But he once again suggested there were U.S.-based hackers targeted Russia. The Biden administration has said anyone known to commit crimes against foreign targets would be prosecuted.

American companies have been victim to a series of ransomware attacks carried out by actors based in Russia, with increasing stakes and escalating ransom demands. Putin continued to deny US allegations that the Russian government was responsible for the spate of hacks. Biden said it was the government's responsibility to go after perpetrators, but did not claim the government was behind the activity.

Both presidents got snippy with reporters in their press conferences: Putin when he was questioned about human rights violations and opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And Biden when he was questioned on China. 

And Putin took questions for twice as long as Biden: his press conference clocked in at nearly an hour while Biden spoke for 33 minutes. 

In his description of their sit down, Biden emphasized the American commitment to human rights and free speech. 

'How could I be the President of the United States oaf America, and not speak out against the violation human rights,' Biden said.

'I also raised the ability of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty to operate, and the importance of a free press and freedom of speech,' he said.

Biden, as has become typical in his press conference, called on reporters from a list of names given to him by White House staff.

'I'll take your questions and as usual folks they gave me a list of people I'm going to call on,' he said.

 Both men were complimentary of each other. 

'The tone of the entire meeting … was good, positive,' Biden said.

Putin complimented Biden's long record in public life and the American president's experience on the world stage.  

'President Biden is an experienced statesman. He is very different from President Trump,' Putin said. 

At one point, Biden mistakenly referred to Putin as Trump. 'I caught part of President Trump, Putin’s, press conference,' he said, quickly correcting himself.

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