Russian President Vladimir Putin has hit back after his US counterpart Joe Biden said in an interview that he considered him to be a “killer”.
“It takes one to know one,” Mr Putin said on Russian TV, and challenged Mr Biden to talk to him live on air.
Mr Putin rejects accusations that his security services tried to kill opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
The US president also told ABC News Mr Putin would “pay the price” for alleged meddling in the 2020 US election.
Russia has called home its ambassador for talks to prevent the “irreversible deterioration” of ties.
The Russian government said Anatoly Antonov had been called back from Washington to Moscow as relations with the US had reached a “blind alley”.
Mr Biden had been commenting on an American intelligence report that suggested Mr Putin had authorised an interference campaign in last November’s presidential election in the US.
The report accused Russia of trying to sway the election in favour of former Republican President Donald Trump, who was defeated by Mr Biden, a Democrat.
The US is expected to impose sanctions on Russia as soon as next week over the report’s conclusions.
An insult taken in Putin’s stride
The accusation, the Kremlin says, is unprecedented: a US president calling the Russian leader a killer.
The foreign ministry here has demanded an explanation whilst Mr Putin’s spokesman calls the comment a clear sign that President Biden has no intention of repairing relations with Russia.
But Vladimir Putin himself appeared to take the insult in his stride. After all, it plays to his main idea: that the West is Russophobic, a hostile force. Mr Putin said Joe Biden was simply seeing his own traits in the Russian leader and argued that the US was a murderous state – with a list of shameful chapters in its history from slavery to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.
State media here are fuming that the US president has crossed a red line with what commentators are calling a direct insult. The Kremlin spokesman told me that relations with the US now are “very bad” – and they do seem bound to get worse.
What exactly did Putin say?
Rejecting Mr Biden’s accusations, he used a Russian school playground rhyme, which literally translates as “whoever calls names gets called those names”, and equates in English to “it takes one to know one”.
“You know I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the playground we used to say, ‘it takes one to know one’,” he said in comments broadcast on state television.
“And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke. It has deep psychological meaning. We always see our own traits in other people and think they are like how we really are. And as a result we evaluate [a person’s] actions and give assessments.”
Mr Putin also accused the US of committing genocide against native Americans and exterminating civilians in World War Two by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Later on Thursday, the Russian leader invited Mr Biden to hold a live online conversation either on Friday or Monday.
An “open direct discussion” would be “interesting” for both the people of Russia and the US, he said.
Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said earlier that the latest US accusations were not backed by evidence and would further harm bilateral ties.
Announcing the decision to recall its ambassador, the Russian foreign ministry said: “The most important thing for us is to identify ways of rectifying Russia-US relations, which have been going through hard times as Washington has, as a matter of fact, brought them to a blind alley.”
What did Biden promise?
Mr Biden told ABC he had warned Mr Putin about a potential response to alleged election meddling during a call in late January.
“He will pay a price,” Mr Biden said in the interview, broadcast on Wednesday.
Asked what the consequences would be, he said: “You’ll see shortly.”
When asked if he thought Mr Putin was “a killer”, President Biden said “I do”.
In a later news conference, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said relations between Russia and the US would be different than under the Trump presidency.
“Certainly the Russians will be held accountable for the action they’ve taken,” Ms Psaki told reporters.
Is this the first clash between Putin and Biden?
Ten years ago, when he was vice-president to Barack Obama, Mr Biden met Mr Putin at the Kremlin at a time when the Russian president was temporarily serving as prime minister.
“I said, ‘Mr Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul,'” he recalled in an interview for the New Yorker a few years later.
“He looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.'”
Before his election last year, Mr Biden had also referred to Mr Putin as a “KGB thug”, referring to his past in the Soviet secret service.
What did the US intelligence report find?
The 15-page report, released on Tuesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, outlined what it said were “influence operations” pushed by Russia as well as Iran.
It said Russian-linked individuals had spread unsubstantiated claims about President Biden ahead of the 3 November election.
It also said a disinformation campaign had sought to undermine confidence in the broader election process.
According to the US report, some people connected to Russian intelligence also pushed anti-Biden narratives to media outlets, senior officials and allies of Mr Trump.