President Joe Biden said that Russia’s Vladimir Putin was a “worthy adversary” following the first day of a NATO summit in Brussels.

However, he defended his plans to meet with him next week at a press conference on Monday

Biden declined to preview what he would consider to be a successful meeting with the Russian leader while explaining that it was important for the US to confront its adversary regarding issues such as cyber crime and election interference.

“I have met with him. He’s bright. He’s tough. And I have found that he is … as they say when I used to play ball … a worthy adversary,” the President said.

Biden said that every leader with whom he had spoken about the upcoming meeting had expressed their gratitude that Biden was engaging with Russia so soon.

“There’s a consensus, and they thanked me for being willing to talk with them about the meeting and what I intended to do. So I haven’t seen any reluctance,” Biden said, adding that “every one I’ve spoken to, private and publicly,” had encouraged him to go ahead with the meeting.

His meeting with Putin comes amid claims from the US intelligence community that Russian-based hackers were responsible for a recent wave of ransomware attacks targeting US entities as well as the US’ assertion that Russia meddled in both the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections.

He also warned Putin directly about potential harm to Alexei Navalny, a top critic of the Kremlin, imprisoned by Russian authorities over a probation violation since his return to the country earlier this year after recovering from an assassination attempt in Germany.

“Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy. It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me,” Biden said.

The two men are set to meet in Geneva next week.

The two nations also remain bitterly divided over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a region of Ukraine, in 2014.

Biden was also asked about that issue and told reporters that Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory did not mean that Ukraine had no hope of joining NATO, a move that would likely deepen conflict with Russia.

Biden responded that Ukraine remained a partner of the US and said that his administration would continue helping the former Soviet state “resist Russian physical aggression”

The country had more work to do fighting corruption before it could be admitted to the alliance, he added.

“School’s out on that question. It remains to be seen,” he said.