Vladimir Putin has no soul, US Vice President Joe Biden concluded after meeting with the Russian leader at the Kremlin in 2011, according to an article in the New Yorker published online on Monday.
Biden told the magazine about his 2011 visit with Putin, who at the time was prime minister, and said he found himself just inches away from the Russian leader.
"I said, 'Mr. Prime Minister, I'm looking into your eyes, and I don't think you have a soul,'" Biden told the magazine. "He looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, 'We understand one another.'"
Biden's assessment is in stark contrast to that of former US President George W. Bush, who famously said after his first meeting with Putin in 2001: "I looked the man in the eye ... I was able to get a sense of his soul."
Biden's comments were published as the United States and other Western powers expressed outrage with Russia over the downing last week of a Malaysian airliner over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists. All 298 people aboard died.
The United States and other nations blame the rebels for shooting down the plane and they have demanded that Russia and its president, Putin, take responsibility. They also have expressed disgust over the rebels' mishandling of victims' bodies at the crash site.
Biden, who has played a large role in the Obama administration's foreign policy, also discussed his meeting with Ukrainian officials earlier this year, according to the article in the New Yorker's July 28 issue.
The officials had been seeking US military aid, according to the report, but Biden said the United States could only provide minimal support.
"We no longer think in Cold War terms, for several reasons," the vice president told the magazine. "One, no one is our equal. No one is close. Other than being crazy enough to press a button, there is nothing that Putin can do militarily to fundamentally alter American interests."
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Jim Loney and Paul Simao)