WASHINGTON: After Donald Trump’s four-year flirtation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden is setting a new, colder tone — unhesitant criticism, despite openness on arms control.
Biden in his first week has already taken Moscow to task on its arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as well as its alleged hacking, election interference and bounties on US troops — but also quickly moved to extend New START, the Cold War-era powers’ last remaining nuclear reduction treaty.
Biden’s approach is nearly the mirror opposite of that of Trump, who spoke fondly of Putin but whose administration tore up arms agreements.
The White House last week announced a five-year extension of New START but simultaneously said US intelligence would launch a volley of investigations into Russia — including whether it was behind the massive SolarWinds hack which Trump, contradicting experts, said could have been the work of his nemesis China.
The new secretary of state, Antony Blinken, at his first news conference hailed Navalny, the persistent critic of Putin whose poisoning and then arrest on his return to Moscow have inspired thousands to take to the streets.
“It remains striking to me how concerned, and maybe even scared, the Russian government seems to be of one man — Mr. Navalny,” Blinken said Wednesday — a far cry from Trump in 2016 taking delight on how Putin was had been “very nice to me.”
US experts on Russia expected Biden’s opening moves to reflect a longer-term hard line — although they also doubted how much Putin was swayed by any US president, especially as he faces protests.
Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia group, said the US-Russia relationship “is probably the worst it’s been since the Soviet Union’s collapse.”
“The Biden administration is more unified on its tough message and more unified with allies, and that on the margins will put a little bit more pressure on Putin,” he said.
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