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Biden Expected To Raise Cyberattacks During Meeting With Putin

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

So let's dig deeper into the concerns around Russia and cyberattacks by bringing in analyst Mark Galeotti. He's an expert on Russia and international security and defense issues. Good morning, Mark.

MARK GALEOTTI: Good morning.

FADEL: So when asked about Russia's alleged involvement in recent cyberattacks, here's what Putin said to NBC News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC NEWS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through interpreter) It's becoming farcical - like, an ongoing, farcical thing - a never-ending, farcical thing. You said plenty of evidence, but you haven't cited any proof, yet again. But this is an empty conversation, a pointless conversation. What exactly are we talking about?

FADEL: So given that Putin is calling this a pointless conversation, Mark, how does Biden even begin to address cyberattacks in any real way today?

GALEOTTI: Well, first of all, obviously, we mustn't get too bogged down in what Putin says, especially in a public forum. And it's striking. It doesn't matter if it's cyberattacks or assassinations or poisonings or whatever, you know, his usual response is - where is your evidence? - which, let's be perfectly honest, is not actually the response of an innocent individual. But when it comes down to it, look, this is the game that is being played with, particularly, cyber. On the other hand, actually, behind closed doors is an opportunity precisely for Putin to be given some pointers as to what the West does know and what the West will do about it. Again, we got to distinguish - this is not something that can be done in public, but it can be done in this kind of a format.

FADEL: So let's talk about that strategy in the private format. The summit is happening today. In your view, what U.S. strategy should Biden be taking for a useful - a productive meeting with Putin?

GALEOTTI: There has to be this balance. There has to be a balance between absolutely trying to lay down the law in private and making it clear with very, very specific responses. The trouble is, in the past, it tends to be something that is - happens behind the curve. In other words, after the Russians do something, we come back, and we sanction them for it. What we need to be doing is, in some ways - I wouldn't say pre-sanctioning, but giving them a sense of exactly what to expect.

But that said, that's behind the scenes. More broadly, though, it's clear that, precisely from President Biden's point of view, Russia is an irritant; China is really the big issue. But the problem is that what that does is it more or less tells Putin if you want our attention, you need to cause a fuss. I mean, in many ways, this whole summit is happening because the Russians massed troops on the Ukrainian border, and this was part of the price for getting them to stand down. So what they're also going to have to do is tell - is make it clear to Putin what the risks of that kind of a strategy are going to be for him.

FADEL: So specifically on cyberattacks that the U.S. blames on Russian-based hackers, are there any mutual interests that Russia has in addressing them, given their own vulnerabilities?

GALEOTTI: Well, look - the trouble is here that there are cyberattacks that come from the Russian state, there are cyberattacks that come from gangsters who clearly have corrupt relationships with the Russian state, and then there's also just Russian-based hackers who are just criminals. It's worth noting that over the last five years, I mean, cyberattacks against Russian targets have increased by 250%. So they do, perversely, have a certain interest in trying to find some kind of common ground.

FADEL: Right.

GALEOTTI: The question is, though - it's about weaning them off the use of hackers as a weapon of geopolitics. And therefore, I think there should be a mix of, on the one hand, encouraging law enforcement cooperation, but on the other hand, precisely launching offensive cyberattacks against those networks that attack Western targets. And if they happen to be just gangsters, well, then why should Russia have a problem? And if they happen to be gangsters associated with the Russian state, well, then it's for Russia to step forward if they want to try and protect them.

FADEL: And this current tension over cybersecurity, cyberattacks, what does it say about the wider issues between Russia, the United States, the West?

GALEOTTI: Well, in some ways, it's actually a perversely reassuring one. I mean, the reason why Russia uses these kind of techniques - and also disinformation and other covert methods - is precisely because, look, they know the West, when it's unified as an alliance, is vastly more powerful than today's Russia. This is not the old Soviet Union. So Putin has to use these kind of covert means to get around it. So we need to keep it in perspective. Yes, these are all irritations at least, potential problems at worst. But the fact that Putin used them is from - because he realizes that ultimately history is not on his side.

FADEL: In the few seconds that we do have left, our previous guest, General Wesley Clark, really advocated a more aggressive stance towards Russia. What about that strategy?

GALEOTTI: Look, if we do aggression, you might say, overtly, then Putin will feel he has to respond hard, too. We need to make it clear that we are going to be tough, but not challenge him openly.

FADEL: Mark Galeotti, thank you so much for joining us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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