Russia is recalling its ambassador to the United States for consultations, the foreign ministry said Wednesday after US President Joe Biden labelled Vladimir Putin as 'a killer' in an explosive interview.
The move to bring Anatoly Antonov to Moscow comes amid rising tensions with Biden's administration, which has imposed sanctions over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Biden told ABC News in an interview on Tuesday night that he had a "long chat" with Putin and that "the price he will pay you will see shortly".
The comments came after the US released an intelligence report stating that Putin had authorised influence operations to help Donald Trump in the 2020 election and to denigrate Biden's candidacy.
Asked if he thought Putin was a killer, Biden responded: "Yes, I think he is."
Bilateral relations 'in a difficult state'
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova did not cite specific reasons for Antonov’s return but said that relations “are in a difficult state, which Washington has brought to a dead-end in recent years."
"We are interested in preventing their irreversible degradation, if the Americans are aware of the associated risks,” she added.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: "We will be direct, we will speak out on areas where we have concerns, and it will certainly be, as the president said last night — certainly, the Russians will be held accountable for the actions that they have taken.”
Biden to Putin: 'You don't have a soul'
In his interview, Biden also revealed he'd previously told Putin to his face that he didn't have a soul. In response, Russia's president said "we understand each other", Biden claimed.
But Biden said there were places where it was in their "mutual interest to work together."
"That's why I renewed the START agreement with him. That occurred while he's doing this. But that's overwhelming in the interest of humanity that we diminish the prospect of a nuclear exchange.
Biden on vaccine politicisation and the Cuomo furore
Biden repeated in the interview that he hopes to open up vaccine doses to all Americans by May 1. He said he still hopes that there can be some semblance of normality in the US by July 4.
The US has already vaccinated around 20% of its population but Biden said people needed to be willing to get vaccinated.
"I just don't understand this sort of macho thing about, 'I'm not gonna get the vaccine. I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it.' Well, why don't you be a patriot? Protect other people," Biden told ABC News.
The US president also revealed his thoughts on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is accused by former staffers of sexual harassment.
Biden said Cuomo should resign his position if the allegations of abuse are confirmed and could probably "end up being prosecuted too."