Russia called its U.S. ambassador back to Moscow for consultations on Wednesday after Joe Biden described Vladimir Putin as a "killer" who would "pay a price" for election meddling, prompting the first major diplomatic crisis for the new American president.
In an interview with ABC News, Biden was asked about a U.S. intelligence report that the Russian leader tried to harm his candidacy in the November 2020 election and promote that of Donald Trump.
"He will pay a price," the 78-year-old Biden said. "You'll see shortly."
Asked if he thought Putin, who has been accused of ordering the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other rivals, is a "killer," Biden said: "I do."
The comments were aired as the U.S. Commerce Department announced it was toughening export restrictions imposed on Russia earlier this month as punishment for Navalny's poisoning.
Russia responded by summoning its envoy home, but stressed it wanted to prevent an "irreversible deterioration" in U.S.-Russia relations.
"The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, has been invited to come to Moscow for consultations conducted with the aim of analyzing what should be done and where to go in the context of ties with the United States," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
In Washington, the State Department noted the Russian move and said the United States will "engage with Russia in ways that advance American interests."
"We also remain clear-eyed about the challenges that Russia poses," deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said. "Even as we work with Russia to advance U.S. interests, we'll be able to hold Russia accountable for any of their malign actions."
Biden told ABC he had a "long talk" with Putin after taking office in January and he knows him "relatively well."
"The conversation started off, I said, 'I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared'," Biden said.
The statement marked a stark contrast with Trump's steadfast refusal to say anything negative about the Russian president.
In a 2017 interview with Fox News, Trump was asked about Putin being a "killer." "There are a lot of killers," he replied. "You think our country's so innocent?"
Biden said that despite his thoughts about the Russian leader "there are places where it's in our mutual interest to work together."
"That's why I renewed the START agreement with him," he said of the nuclear treaty. "That occurred while he's doing this, but that's overwhelmingly in the interest of humanity, that we diminish the prospect of a nuclear exchange."
- 'Know the other guy' -
The ABC News interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, also recalled to Biden that he once told Putin he "doesn't have a soul."
"I did say that to him, yes. And his response was 'We understand one another'," Biden confirmed.
Biden said he had learned from dealing with "an awful lot" of leaders during a political career spanning almost five decades -- including eight years as vice president -- that the most important thing was to "just know the other guy."
The speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament denounced Biden for agreeing with the description of Putin as a "killer."
"Biden insulted the citizens of our country," State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said. "Attacks on (Putin) are attacks on our country."
The Kremlin on Wednesday also dismissed the U.S. determination that Russia had targeted election infrastructure during the 2020 U.S. polls.
"It is absolutely groundless and unsubstantiated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that it was an "excuse" to consider new sanctions on Moscow.
According to U.S. intelligence, Putin and other senior officials "were aware of and probably directed" Russia's influence operation to sway the vote in Trump's favor.
It concluded, however, that the election results were not compromised.
Russia faced allegations of U.S. election meddling in 2016 for launching a social media campaign to boost Trump's candidacy and discredit his opponent Hillary Clinton.
After Biden's victory over Trump, Putin was among the last world leaders to congratulate the newly elected Democratic president.
- Tense relations -
Tensions between the former Cold War rivals have soared in recent months over hacking allegations and Washington's demands that Russia free Navalny.
The Commerce Department said the new measures prevent export to Russia of more items controlled for national security reasons, including some technology, software and parts.
"The Department of Commerce is committed to preventing Russia from accessing sensitive U.S. technologies that might be diverted to its malign chemical weapons activities," it said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told RIA Novosti such moves don't improve "chances to normalize the ties."
"In any case, responsibility for further deterioration of Russian-American ties fully rests with the United States," Ryabkov said.
Navalny returned to Russia in January after being treated for the poisoning in Germany, and is serving a two-and-a-half year jail term in a penal colony outside Moscow.
The latest sanctions add to U.S. penalties already imposed on Moscow since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.