Vladimir Putin Fears Cyberattack From U.S., NATO Planning Against Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted that he is concerned that the United States could attack his country and that NATO is planning a military operation.

In an interview with NBC News aired on Sunday, Putin said that: "What people can be afraid of in America, the very same thing can be a danger to us. The U.S. is a high-tech country, NATO has declared cyberspace an area of combat. That means they are planning something; they are preparing something so obviously this cannot but worry us."

Asked whether he feared U.S. intelligence was deep inside Russian systems and has the ability to do a lot of damage, Putin said: "I'm not afraid, but I bear in mind it's a possibility."

U.S. corporations and government agencies in recent months have fallen victim to several cyberattacks which Washington has blamed on Moscow.

These security breaches will be on the agenda when Putin meets U.S. President Joe Biden in a crunch one-day summit in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday.

The two men are also expected to discuss Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine, along with jailed opposition activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny survived being poisoned with Novichok nerve agent, but was hospitalized after becoming violently ill on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow in August last year.

The Kremlin critic has accused Putin of ordering the attempted murder. In the NBC interview, Putin denied trying to get Navalny killed but did not guarantee he would make it out of prison alive.

"Look, such decisions in this country are not made by the president," Putin said.

After being reminded that Navalny wasn't a typical prisoner, the Russian president said he would not be treated "any worse than anybody else."

When Biden meets Putin on Wednesday, the two men are expected to discuss the release of hostages. The U.S. State Department says former Marine Trevor Reed and Michigan corporate executive Paul Whelan are unfairly convicted in Russia. Reed is suffering from COVID-19 in prison, and his family told NBC that they are struggling to get updates on his condition.

Asked whether he would release the two prisoners ahead of the summit as a gesture of good will, Putin said: "I know we have certain U.S. citizens who are in prison, who are convicted, but if one considers the number of Russian federation citizens that are in U.S. prisons then these numbers don't even compare."

Putin added that Reed was a "troublemaker" and "drunk" who "got himself s***-faced and started a fight." Reed is serving a nine-year sentence for hitting a Russian police officer in 2019, a charge the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan has described as "flimsy." Reed and his family deny the charges.

However, Putin said he would be open to a prisoner swap with the U.S. On NBC's Today show on Monday, Reed's father Joey said they were fine with a prisoner swap if it meant his son could return home.

The brother of Whelan also spoke with NBC on Monday.

"He is innocent, he was wrongly accused. We would rather see the door come open and him come out rather than some sort of negotiated release of Russian convicts," Whelan's brother said on Today.

At least two Russians in prison in America are of interest and value to Putin and the Russian security services. Among them are arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for attempting to sell weapons to a terrorist organisation; and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who is serving 20 years in a U.S. federal prison for cocaine trafficking.

In February, Moscow and Washington were in talks to secure the release of Whelan, who was jailed for spying last June, but there was no breakthrough. Whelan faces 16 years in jail. Whelan denies the charges and said he was set up in a sting operation.

President Putin Opens Monument To Alexander III
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the monument to Alexander III, on June 5, 2021 in Gatchina, 45 kilometers (28 mi) south of Saint Petersburg, Russia. Emperor Alexander III of Russia died in 1894. Putin has admitted that he is concerned that the United States could attack his country. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty