Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that US President Joe Biden’s comments about Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin, in which he called him a “killer”, were “unacceptable” and “not fitting of a president”.
In a TV interview broadcast on Wednesday, Biden said “I do” when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer, plunging diplomatic ties to a new low. Putin later responded “it takes one to know one”.
“Mr Biden’s comment about Putin does not suit a head of state,” the Turkish president told reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, lauding Putin for giving a “smart” and “classy response”.
Ankara and Washington are NATO allies, although Erdogan and Biden have yet to speak since the latter took office in January.
Putin on Thursday mocked the US leader, using a Russian phrase that translates roughly as “it takes one to know one”, and wishing Biden, 78, good health.
“I’m saying this without irony, not as a joke,” Putin, 68, said.
Biden is also remembered in Ankara for calling Erdogan an “autocrat” in an interview in late 2019.
Despite their differences over the Syria war, in which they have backed opposite sides, Erdogan has called Putin a “friend and a strategic partner”.
Putin, meanwhile, offered a phone call with Biden in the next few days to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, regional conflicts and other issues, and suggested the conversation be open to the public.
The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin’s offer to speak by phone with Biden was intended to prevent bilateral ties from completely falling apart.
Putin made it clear “it makes sense to have a talk to maintain Russia-US relations instead of trading barbs,” and he wanted to make it public to help defuse tensions over Biden’s “very bad remarks”, said his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“Since Biden’s words were quite unprecedented, unprecedented formats can’t be excluded,” Peskov said. “President Putin proposed to discuss the situation openly because it would be interesting for the people of both countries.”
Peskov said the Kremlin has not heard back from the White House on the offer of a call, adding it was not going to repeat the proposal.
“The request has been made,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “The lack of response would mean a refusal to have a conversation.”
Asked by reporters if he will take Putin up on his offer to have a call, Biden said on Friday, “I’m sure we’ll talk at some point.”
Putin noted Russia would still cooperate with the United States where and when it supports Moscow’s interests, adding “a lot of honest and decent people in the US want to have peace and friendship with Russia”.
In a highly unusual move following Biden’s interview, Russia said it was recalling its ambassador to the US for urgent consultations over the future of US-Russia ties.
The Russian embassy in Washington, DC said in a statement that Anatoly Antonov will leave the United States on Saturday.
Moscow’s ties with the West, already languishing at post-Cold War lows since 2014, have come under new pressure in recent months over opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who is serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence in Russia.
The Kremlin critic returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with what several Western countries said was a nerve agent. He was jailed for parole violations in a decision that he and Western countries have denounced as politically motivated.
Western powers, including the US, have demanded Navalny is freed. Russia has dismissed those calls as unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs.
On Wednesday, the US Commerce Department tightened sanctions on some exports to Russia as punishment for Navalny’s alleged poisoning in August of last year. Moscow has denied any role in the case.
The US is also thought to be readying further sanctions against Russia over the alleged hacking and meddling in the 2020 US election.
“You’ll see shortly,” Biden told ABC, when asked what consequences Russia would face.
Erdogan’s comments reflect a new spell of tensions that have entered Turkey’s relations with Washington since Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House in January.
Turkish-US relations are also hampered by Ankara’s purchase of advanced S-400 air defence missile system from Moscow, which Washington says threaten NATO defences.
Turkey has said it wants improved ties under Biden, but has called on Washington to end its support for the Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, and accused it of siding with fighters who it says executed 13 Turks in northern Iraq this month.
Ankara has been infuriated by US support for the Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom it considers “terrorists”.