Russia's ambassador to the United States returned to Moscow on Sunday after being recalled for emergency consultations amid rising tensions with Washington following President Joe Biden's comments that he believed his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, was a killer.
Biden's remark in a TV interview earlier in the week in turn prompted a terse quip from Vladimir Putin who wished the U.S. president "good health" and said that people tend to refer to others as they really see themselves.
The Biden interview came on the heels of the release of a report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence that concluded Putin had "authorized, and a range of Russian government organizations conducted, influence operations aimed at denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President [Donald] Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the United States."
The Kremlin immediately denied the findings of the report, saying they were "absolutely unfounded."
Ambassador Anatoly Antonov landed at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport early on March 21, Russian news agencies reported, after he was recalled last week over the spat.
Before takeoff in New York he told news agencies he would stay in Moscow "as long as needed" and that several meetings were scheduled.
"The Russian side has always stressed that we are interested in the development of Russian-American relations to the same extent as our American colleagues are," he was quoted as saying by TASS.
Moscow, which rarely recalls ambassadors, last summoned its envoy in the United States in 1998 over a Western bombing campaign in Iraq.
In 2014, after the U.S. said Russia would face repercussions for the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, Putin held back on recalling Moscow's envoy, describing the measure as a "last resort."
Biden, who has spent more than four decades in politics, said "I do" during an ABC News interview broadcast on March 17 when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer.
The Kremlin immediately responded that Biden's statement was "very bad" and "unprecedented."
Putin has since proposed a phone call with Biden to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic and regional conflicts, among other topics, and said it should be open to the public.
The Kremlin has suggested the offer was intended to avoid permanent damage in Russian-U.S. relations from Biden's characterization.
Putin's two decades as Russia's leader have included Western accusations of state-sponsored assassination attempts against political opponents at home and abroad, though no U.S. president had previously said in public that they believed the Russian leader was directly responsible for murder.