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Putin says Russia is ready to hand over cybercriminals, but only if US does the same

Russia's President Vladimir Putin. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia would be ready to hand over suspected cybercriminals to the United States but only if Washington did the same for Moscow and if the two powers reached an agreement on the matter.

Putin made the comments in an interview aired in excerpts on state television on June 13 ahead of a June 16 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Geneva. Ties between the powers are badly strained over an array of issues.

″If we agree to extradite criminals, then, of course, Russia will go for it. But only if the other side — in this case, the United States — agrees to the same thing,″ Putin said, without elaborating.

Putin said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting.

That issue is in the spotlight after a cybercriminal group that U.S. authorities said operates from Russia penetrated a pipeline operator on the U.S. East Coast, locking its systems and demanding a ransom. The hack last month caused a shutdown lasting several days and led to a spike in gas prices, panic buying, and localized fuel shortages in the southeast.

Colonial Pipeline decided to pay the hackers who invaded their systems nearly $5 million to regain access, the company said.

Ransomware rackets are dominated by Russian-speaking cybercriminals who are shielded — and sometimes employed — by Russian intelligence agencies, according to security researchers, U.S. law enforcement, and now the Biden administration.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cybercriminals, Putin said that would depend on Moscow and Washington reaching an agreement.

Since taking office in January, Biden has challenged Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, alleged meddling in elections, and cyberattacks emanating from Russia.

But the U.S. leader has also said the United States wants a “stable, predictable” relationship that allows Moscow and Washington to work together on common issues like strategic stability, arms control, and climate change.

In segments of an interview broadcast by NBC on June 11, Putin said that the U.S.-Russia relationship had “deteriorated to its lowest point in recent years.”

Biden will hold a solo press conference after his summit in Geneva next week with Putin, a U.S. official revealed on June 12.

An unnamed U.S. administration official said Biden appearing alone was “the appropriate format to clearly communicate with the free press the topics that were raised in the meeting — both in terms of areas where we may agree and in areas where we have significant concerns.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the announcement, but suggested it didn’t necessarily bode badly for the summit.