President Joe Biden is scheduled to have his first official phone call as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days. Of all the world leaders Uncle Joe has to talk to, aside from possibly Xi Jinping, this one may be the most fraught with tension and possible complications. The Associated Press is describing it as a situation where Biden will be performing “a high-wire balancing act.” Everyone who accused Donald Trump of being some sort of Kremlin mole should obviously be expecting a major change in foreign policy as Joe Biden takes Putin out to the woodshed, right? We shall see.
President Joe Biden has been quickly thrown into a high-wire balancing act with Russia as he seeks to toughen his administration’s stance against Vladimir Putin while preserving room for diplomacy in a post-Donald Trump era.
The relationship is sure to be different from the one Putin enjoyed with Trump, who was enamored of the Russian leader and sought his approval, casting doubt on Russian interference in the 2016 elections and involvement in a massive hack last year. Despite this conciliatory approach, his administration toed a tough line against Moscow, imposing sanctions on the country, Russian companies and business leaders for issues ranging from Ukraine to energy supplies and attacks on dissidents.
Unlike his immediate predecessors, Biden has not held out hope for a “reset” in relations with Russia but has instead indicated he wants to manage differences with the former Cold War foe without necessarily resolving them or improving ties.
It’s rather hilarious the way Biden is described as not holding out hope for a “reset” with Russia when you consider that he was part of the administration that literally delivered a reset button to Putin at one point. If there’s any balancing act to be done, it will involve figuring out a way to look tough with Putin while not screwing up the New START deal. We’re learning that just today Moscow and Washington “exchanged documents” relating to the deal, but that doesn’t mean that anything is set in stone yet.
People are expecting Biden to “get tough” with Putin over a number of things. One is the poisoning and imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny, along with the detention of some of his followers and family members. Biden is also supposed to straighten Putin out on a massive hacking incident from last year and claims that Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill American troops in Afghanistan.
I’m trying to picture Biden getting on the phone, laying out all of those allegations, and then following it up by saying, “So… how about that New START agreement, buddy?”
We’ve already seen how Putin reacts in public when these issues are brought up and I wouldn’t expect him to behave any differently on the phone with Biden. He’ll claim that the charges against Navalny are all legitimate and the idea that he ordered the poison attack is just malarkey. (It would be hilarious to hear him say “malarkey” to Uncle Joe.) He’ll deny any involvement in the cybersecurity breach and dare Biden to prove otherwise. It’s what Putin always does.
And what is Joe Biden going to do in response? Hit Russia with more sanctions beyond the one that Putin’s supposed “buddy” Donald Trump already smacked them with? That should really set the tone and put Vladimir Putin in the mood to generously sign a new arms deal, right?
As with all other matters of policy, this is the job that Joe Biden wanted and now he’s got it. Taking care of the situation with Russia is his responsibility now. He was happy to criticize Donald Trump’s relationship with Putin, so now it’s time for him to step up and play the tough guy. Let’s see how that goes.