US President Joe Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Geneva summit June 16 that energy facilities and other critical infrastructure should be off limits to ransomware attacks, while Putin denied any Russian government involvement in the recent Colonial Pipeline shutdown.
In the leaders’ first meeting since Biden took office, Biden said he raised a hypothetical scenario of Florida- or Maine-based cyber criminals targeting the pipelines from Russia’s oil fields, “their single lifeline to their economy.”
“I pointed out to him we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it,” Biden said during a press conference after the nearly four-hour summit. “He doesn’t know exactly what it is but it’s significant. If in fact they violate these basic norms, we will respond.”
A May 7 ransomware attack forced Colonial Pipeline to shut operations for nearly a week, wreaking havoc for gasoline and diesel supplies across the Southeast and East Coast. The incident highlighted the vulnerability of US energy infrastructure to cyberattacks and the role of criminal hacker groups like Russian-based DarkSide.
Putin told reporters at his separate press conference that “Russia provides all information on requests from the United States about cyberattacks, but does not receive answers itself.”
He ruled out Russia’s participation in cyber attacks that shut the Colonial Pipeline.
“We have to put aside any insinuations,” Putin said. “We know about the cyberattack on the American pipeline … but what does Russia has to do with it?”
Nonetheless, Russia and US agreed to start consultations on cyber security.
Help on Iran
During the bilateral talks, Biden and Putin signed a single document — on strategic stability — and also touched on trade, regional security and cooperation in the Arctic.
Biden said Putin agreed to “help” on the issue of ensuring that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, although neither president mentioned to reporters the ongoing Vienna talks aimed at restarting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and removing US oil sanctions on Tehran.
Although Putin said he “had absolutely no illusions” about the current state of Russian-US relations, he spoke highly of Biden, calling him “very balanced and constructive interlocutor.”
“There was no hostility [during the talks], on the contrary,” Putin said. “Our meeting took place in a constructive manner. On many issues our assessments differ, but in my opinion, both sides demonstrated a desire to understand each other and look for ways to bring closer their positions.”
On the Arctic, Putin said US concerns about Russian militarization “have absolutely no basis, and Russia has just been restoring the destroyed infrastructure there.”
“The development of the Arctic in general, and the Northern Sea Route in particular, is of great interest for the economies of many countries,” Putin added. “I am deeply convinced that we can cooperate – and should cooperate – in this area.”
Putin dodged the question on whether he received reassurance from Biden regarding future sanctions on Russia, but underlined the importance of the bilateral trade, which amounted to $28 billion in 2020 and increased by 16.5% in the first quarter of 2021.