Vice President Biden told Vladimir Putin that he did not believe the Russian leader had “a soul” during a visit to the Kremlin in 2011, the vice president said in a New Yorker magazine interview published Monday.
Biden said the incident occurred while he was touring Putin’s office in the Kremlin.
Pressed on if the anecdote was true, Biden confirmed, “absolutely, positively.”
“And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’” Biden said. “This is who this guy is!”
The exchange was a play on comments former President George W. Bush made after inviting Putin to visit him at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul,” Bush said. “He's a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country, and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue, and that's the beginning of a very constructive relationship.”
The world’s eyes have turned to Putin since the downing of Malaysia Airlines passenger jet last week in eastern Ukraine. The U.S. has said that the plane was likely shot down with Russian surface-to-air missiles provided to pro-Russian separatists in the region.
The Obama administration has called on Putin to end his support for the rebels and demand open access to the crash site amid reports the separatists have been limiting access and tampering with evidence.
“This is a moment of truth for Mr. Putin and for Russia,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during an interview on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “Russia needs to step up and prove its bona fides, if there are any left, with respect to its willingness to put actions behind the words.”
In a statement Monday morning, Putin accused the West of playing politics with the crash.
“No one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals. Rather than dividing us, tragedies of this sort should bring people together,” he said.