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Putin rejects 'farcical' US accusation of Russia cyberattacks, says open to prisoner swap

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks with journalist of NBC News Keir Simmons (not seen) in Moscow on June 11, 2021, during an exclusive interview ahead of a meeting with US President Joe Biden. (Photo by AFP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed as “farcical” accusations that Moscow has been waging cyber warfare against the United States, stressing there is no proof for the claims put forward by Washington.

"We have been accused of all kinds of things, election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth, and not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof, just unfounded accusations," Putin said in an inclusive interview with NBC News on Monday.

"Where is proof? It's becoming farcical," he said, while rejecting his country’s involvement in the recent cyberattacks in the United States.

Putin’s denial comes ahead of a scheduled meeting next week with his American counterpart President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland, as relations between the two sides have deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.

US companies, including a major fuel pipeline network, have been hit by cyberattacks in recent months, often forcing temporary shutdowns until ransoms are paid.

Back in May, hackers breached the network of Colonial Pipeline, and stole nearly 100GB of data in two hours.

The ransomware attack forced the company to shut down a gasoline and diesel pipeline, which spans more than 5,500 miles and transports about 45% of all fuel consumed on the US East Coast.

Biden stated at the time that the cyberattack was not the work of Russia, but then said that Moscow bore “some responsibility” for the attack.

His remarks came as several US media outlets blamed the ransomware attack on a cyber-criminal gang dubbed “DarkSide” with alleged links to Russia.

DarkSide, the group blamed for attacking Colonial Pipeline systems, has said it recently hacked four other companies.

Russia has denied involvement in the US pipeline’s cyberattack.

Over the past year, some 2,400 ransomware attacks have hit American corporate, local and federal offices in extortion plots that lock up victims’ data.

Putin says is open to prisoner swap with the US

Elsewhere in his remarks, Putin said he is open to a prisoner swap with the United States which is likely to come up for discussion when the two leaders meet at Geneva next Wednesday.  

The Russian leader also said that jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny would "not be treated any worse than anybody else."

"You are presenting it as dissent and intolerance towards dissent in Russia... we view it completely differently," Putin said, when asked about accusations of brutal crushing of dissent in Russia.

He further called for "predictability and stability" in Russian-US relations, saying it was "something we haven't seen in recent years."

Biden and Putin are set to meet in Geneva next week but will not have a joint news conference. “State-sponsored cyberattacks” is expected to be a “topic of conversation” between the two leaders as well as the fate of prisoners.

Some US media outlets have suggested that no major new policy agreements are expected after the meeting

The meeting will take place following a NATO summit in Belgium, the second part of the US president’s first foreign trip.

The White House has moved to quickly tamp down talk of an exchange of "cyber criminals" after Biden appeared open to the idea of a prisoner exchange between the two countries when speaking at a press conference after the G7 meeting in Britain.

"He's not saying he's going to be exchanging cyber criminals with Russia," US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

"What he was talking about was accountability and the idea that responsible countries should be held accountable... not harboring cyber criminals, and to bringing cyber criminals to justice."

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