On June 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin took questions from reporters following his summit meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. Putin stuck to a script we’ve heard: When questions critical of Russian actions in Ukraine, cyber hacking or handling political dissent came up, he reflexively changed the subject to problems in the United States.
Polygraph.info has fact-checked many of these topics before. Here’s how some of Putin’s comments in Geneva stack up.
What Putin said: “Ask yourself, what is stable in the fact that they supported the coup in Ukraine, when former President Yanukovich agreed with all the demands of the opposition ... No, it was necessary to commit a bloody coup, which led to certain consequences – both in the south-east (of Ukraine) and the Crimea.”
Fact check: Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution was not a coup. Russia annexed Crimea by deploying troops, in uniforms without insignia, who seized Crimea’s parliament and took control of airports and military installations across the peninsula. Russia orchestrated the war in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and continues backing up its separatist proxies with military and political cover.
What Putin said: “Russia is not in the list of countries from whose cyberspace a large number of cyberattacks of different nature are being launched.”
Fact check: Russian state or criminal cyber actors launched massive compromising and ransomware attacks targeting the U.S. government and civilian sectors, including the SolarWinds hack of government agencies and the Colonial Pipeline attack that triggered gas lines. The U.S. FBI Director Christopher Wray has testified that “[t]he Russians have a very-active clearly state-sponsored cyber campaign.” In its 2020 Digital Defense Report, Microsoft said Russia was the origin of 52 percent of nation state cyber attacks, followed by Iran (25 percent), China (12 percent) and North Korea (11 percent).
What Putin said: Without using Russian opposition activist Alexey Navalny’s name, Putin responded to a question about Navalny’s imprisonment saying he “was required to check in as a person twice convicted of crimes, intentionally, I would like to underline that, this gentleman ignored the law and went abroad for medical treatment.”
Fact check: Navalny was arrested in an alleged probation violation when he returned to Russia after being treated in Berlin for what EU and German officials said was an attempted poisoning. An investigation by journalists at Bellingcat concluded officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, had placed the nerve agent Novichok inside Navalny’s underwear. Navalny nearly died. He’s now locked up, and his political organization has been effectively outlawed.
What Putin said: “We have only two outlets broadcasting to foreign audiences, RT and Sputnik. The American side registered them as foreign agents and withdrew their accreditation. That is while Russia Today fulfilled all demands from the American regulators and the law, registered accordingly and so on.”
Fact check: This is ‘whataboutism.’ Putin was asked about pressure on independent news organizations in Russia and on Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe, the U.S.-funded Russian language service that is being fined millions of rubles for declining to put at ‘foreign agent’ label on its content. The Russian state-owned RT and Sputnik news outlets are required by U.S. law to register as foreign agents, but Russia Today has provided false information in its registrations.
What Putin said: Contrary to the United States, Russia doesn't hold military drills by “dragging our military to the American borders.”
Fact check: This comment referred to Russian military exercises and deployments on the border with Ukraine and the country’s ambitions to join the NATO defense alliance with other European partners and the United States. Just a few months back, Russian warships and aircraft pierced through Alaskan fishing fleet just 80 miles from the U.S. border.
What Putin said: “It's hard for me to explain now, because all the actions tied with deterioration of Russia-U.S. relations had been initiated not by us but by the American side.”
Fact check: Let’s see. Russian interference in the 2016 and 2020 U.S. presidential elections. The annexation of Crimea and conflict in Donbas. Harassment of U.S. ships in the Black Sea. And that was before the SolarWinds cyber hack into U.S. government agencies and private firms.
What Putin said: "After the introduction of certain restrictions in the economic sphere, the United States lost no less than Russia."
Fact check: Not exactly. The latest sanctions prohibit U.S. entities and individuals from owning or trading a variety of Russian government bonds. As of January 1, American individuals and entities owned about 6.9% of all Russia’s government bonds, a share worth about $12.8 billion. In anticipation of the sanctions, the share of foreign investment in Russian federal loan bonds fell below 20% for the first time since August 2015.