"I looked in your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul," the president said he once told Vladimir Putin

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Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden
Vladimir Putin (left) and Joe Biden
| Credit: Mikhail KlimentyevTASS via Getty; Chip Somodevilla/Getty

President Joe Biden is promising that Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, will "pay a price" for his interference in the U.S. election — saying in an interview with ABC News that aired Wednesday that be believes Putin is a "killer"

"He had a long talk, he and I," Biden told George Stephanopoulos. "I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off — I said, 'I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.' "

Asked by Stephanopoulos whether Biden had once told Putin that he "does not have a soul," as had been previously reported, the president confirmed "[I] did say that to him, yes."

"I wasn't being a wise guy. I was alone with him in his office, that's how it came about," Biden continued. "It was when President Bush had said, 'I've looked in his eyes and saw his soul.' I said, 'I looked in your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul.' He looked back and he said, 'We understand each other.' "

His decades in politics, Biden said, taught him that the most important thing in dealing with foreign leaders is "know the other guy."

"So you know Vladimir Putin — do you think he's a killer?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"Mmmhmm, I do ... The price he's gonna pay, well, you'll see shortly," Biden said, adding that there are areas in which the two countries should work together, "in the interest of humanity," such as the recent extension of a nuclear arms control pact.

Russian officials, including Putin, quickly umbrage at the remark. According to The Washington Post, the Russian president responded somewhat mockingly, invoking an expression that translates to "I know you are, but what am I?"

Putin, who has as penchant for strongman theatrics, also challenged Biden to a debate. (Biden declined.)

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have frayed in recent years after the American intelligence community denounced what it called a Russian campaign to interfere in U.S. elections and sow division and discord, largely online.

There were also more recent — and disputed — reports that Russia had offered bounties for the killings of U.S. service-members in the Middle East.

Putin's government has roundly rejected any wrongdoing and Putin has cast himself as the defender of a country in the shadow of NATO and the U.S.-led international order.

Biden's remarks about him come on the heels of a declassified report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Tuesday assessing the myriad foreign threats to the 2020 U.S. election.

The report found that the Russian president authorized an influence campaign aimed at supporting former President Donald Trump and undermining public confidence in the election.

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials found "no indications" that Russia or any other foreign nation interfered in elections by altering any technical voting data — such as ballots, registrations, or vote tabulation — but that the country's leadership sought to influence those close to Trump, including Rudy Giuliani, in an effort to swing the election in his favor. 

"There's no suggestion from the report that Giuliani or other Americans were wittingly aiding a Russian interference effort," The Washington Postreported, instead describing that the official assessment was of a blind eagerness for assistance. 

A spokesperson for the Kremlin told the Post that Russia "did not interfere in the previous election and did not interfere in the election mentioned in this report in 2020. Russia has no relation to any campaigns against any candidates."

In a statement issued Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said: "Foreign malign influence is an enduring challenge facing our country. These efforts by U.S. adversaries seek to exacerbate divisions and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions. Addressing this ongoing challenge requires a whole-of-government approach grounded in an accurate understanding of the problem, which the Intelligence Community, through assessments such as this one, endeavors to provide."

On his first full day in office, Biden directed Haines to conduct a full review of several recent Russian controversies, including interference in the election, reported bounties placed on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Though it was released this week, the declassified intelligence report was based on intelligence work undertaken during the Trump administration.

The report rebuts many statements by the former president, who frequently sought to cast doubt on Russian meddling during his tenure as he expressed repeated affinity for Putin himself — saying it was in America's interest to work with him.