Biden’s Strategy With Putin Has Been Decades In The Making

Blinken criticizes Russia for “war crime” in Ukraine 3:29

(WABNEWS) — Joe Biden always says foreign relations are about relationships, and the one with Vladimir Putin has developed it for two decades.

Biden warned that Putin dreamed of rebuilding a authoritarian empire from his days as a senator from Delaware. On the campaign trail, he repeatedly said that he knew Putin didn’t want him to win..


Since the beginning of his term as president, Biden has relied on his sense of the Russian leader to guide his own response. He has even guided the way Biden deals with Putin in his conversations, repeatedly interrupting what he and his aides see as the Russian president’s strategy of going off on tangents intended to confuse and undermine.

According to a dozen interviews with White House officials, members of Congress and others involved in the work, Biden has deliberately worked with allies abroad to deny the Russian leader the one-on-one, Washington versus Moscow dynamic that the president and his aides believe that Putin wants. Speaking publicly and privately of the war as a fight for freedom and democracy, Biden has let other leaders talk to Putin.

He has moved just as deliberately at home to depoliticize opposition to the Ukraine invasion, so that even among Republicans, support for Putin has been forced to the margins, and vilifying the Russian leader has become the main area of ​​bipartisan agreement since Biden took office. This week, Biden stepped up his rhetoric by calling the Russian president a “war criminal,” a “murderous dictator” and a “pure thug.”

“What Putin is trying to do is surround and encircle Kyiv,” said Rep. Greg Meeks, a Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “What Biden is trying to do is get the whole world around Putin.”

Part of the lesson Biden learned from being involved as vice president during Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea was that NATO nations would need a much quicker, more humiliating, and more cohesive response than the months of infighting they produced. sanctions so weak that Putin overcame them. However, government officials privately admit that if Putin had invaded Ukraine a year ago, events might have played out very differently after four years of unsuccessful relations under former President Donald Trump who called NATO obsolete.

On the campaign trail in 2020, Biden spoke about the confrontation he saw coming.

“Putin has one overriding goal: to break up NATO, weaken the Western alliance, and further diminish our ability to compete in the Pacific by working something out with China,” Biden told WABNEWS’s Gloria Borger at the time. “And it’s not going to happen during my term.”

Biden’s last conversation with Putin was on February 12, more than a week before the invasion began. And for a president and his advisers who on almost everything else complain they don’t get the credit they deserve, in Ukraine he and administration officials have avoided talking about him being the leader of the free world, despite that the sanctions and the international response are the result of guidance and pressure from Washington.

The result is that Putin is more pigeonholed than even Biden expected, along with a sustained level of attention to the war abroad and at home that has surprised White House aides, without restarting a Cold War-esque Cold War. from the 80s.

“Joe Biden,” a senior administration official said, “has known Vladimir Putin for decades and knows exactly who he is dealing with.”

Cut Putin, literally and figuratively

Cutting Putin began, as Biden would say, literally.

Each time they spoke, Biden interrupted Putin as Russia’s president launched into complaints that US officials see as an “I don’t care” tactic designed to distract and undermine.

No, Biden would say, that’s not what we’re talking about, according to a senior administration official who has witnessed those conversations. Or no, this is not how things happened 20 or 25 years ago, in whatever past grievances Putin brought up to justify his behavior.

“President Putin can’t pull many of his common tricks on President Biden, like trying to confuse people by going on long historical tangents or wandering through the minutiae of policy because President Biden sees those tactics a mile away and “He’s not taking the bait. He’s going to try to get President Biden off the subject by quoting an obscure section of the Minsk accords or a speech someone made in the late 1990s,” a senior administration official said, adding that Biden “always You’re going to steer the conversation right into what you’ve come to talk about.

Is Vladimir Putin the richest man in the world? 4:20

Biden has often told the story of meeting Putin in the Kremlin in 2011, when he was vice president, telling the Russian leader: “I look into your eyes and I don’t think you have a soul,” a blunt response to the infamous comments. by President George W. Bush in 2001, about a glimpse of Putin’s soul upon looking him in the eye and finding him to be “very forthright and trustworthy.”A Biden administration official, by contrast, sent WABNEWS the most highlight of Biden’s history on the issue over the years, from calling Putin a “thug” in 2006 to calling him a “kleptomaniac” in 2019.

A White House aide who was in the Situation Room for a National Security Council meeting on February 10 said the sense of Putin from Biden it was shown throughout the conversation in which the White House’s assessment of an invasion shifted from a possibility to a near certainty.

“It was resoundingly clear in that meeting that he believed Putin would do this,” the aide said. “He spoke from the experience of someone who knows Putin and has dealt with Putin.”

Biden learned from 2014 and the importance of unity

Biden believed that he would not be able to maintain current levels of unity, in the US and around the worldif Putin provoked the kind of partisan split that caused in 2014when many top Republicans spoke admiringly of his strength and leadership in large part because he was up against Barack Obama.

Biden, as some in his party want, has not gone after Trump, brought up the attack on the 2016 election, or attacked Republicans for voting against the former president’s first impeachment trial when Trump took advantage of the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, seeking to harm Biden.

“The crisis in Ukraine is clarifying what was at stake at the time, and there should be accountability for that,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the House Democrats’ campaign arm. “I don’t think it makes sense to play politics with a war. I think it makes sense to be a moral voice on what is right and what is wrong, and I am proud to belong to a party and we have a president, who knows the good and bad in Ukraine. And the other side seems to be struggling with that.”

That message will not come from the president himself.

“Putin wanted to divide us. We have been united. It’s important that we send that signal to the world,” the White House aide said.

Most Republicans, with some notable outliers, including Trump’s clear struggle to try to erase the memory that his first response to the invasion was to call Putin “smart” and “understanding,” have not attacked Biden, despite many differences between Republicans and Democrats alike over the details of the President’s response.

Republicans, however, have been unconvinced about the other part of Biden’s strategy: calling rising fuel costs “Putin’s price hike” and “Putin’s gas tax” as an attempt to reassure to the voters.

“These are not Putin’s gasoline prices. It’s President Biden’s gas prices,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said last week.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added: “It’s pretty clear that Vladimir Putin is not the cause of this runaway inflation.”

This is how Putin celebrated the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea 1:02

White House aides track every Republican in the House and Senate calling for tougher energy sanctions against Russia, preparing to try to undermine them as hypocrites if they complain about higher gas prices on the campaign trail this year. fall. But at the same time, Biden himself has kept in touch with Republican lawmakers.

That included briefing the top four congressional leaders in person last month and surprising a bipartisan delegation to the Munich Security Conference with a call to thank them for their support. During that call, Vice President Kamala Harris held her cell phone up to a microphone so lawmakers could hear Biden speaking from behind the desk in the Oval Office.

Putin has kept an eye on what Biden has been doing and saying about him for years. That includes friendly Russian commentators who complained in 2009 that Biden was a “gray cardinal” secretly orchestrating a harsh Obama administration response to Putin’s leadership after the then-vice president said Russia was limping, or a spokesman of the Kremlin on Thursday that said Biden’s war criminal comment was “unacceptable and inexcusable.”

Even as Biden has stepped up what he has been saying about Putin, he can only go so far before he stumbles into the escalation he is desperately trying to avoid.

“It pains him to see the devastation in Ukraine, and it would be easy to say, ‘That guy is evil and we’re going after him and we’re going to get him,'” Meeks said. “The question is: Is that the right thing to do? Because then you’re talking about World War III.”



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