What can Kremlin expect from Biden's presidency?

Author : Carnegie Think tank

Source : Carnegie Moscow Center

Real Biden is far from the image created by the Russian media – a frail old man who would become only a nominal head of state. In fact, he is a hardened professional with vast foreign policy experience, strategic thinking, and a willingness to act as tough as possible. A team of ambitious assistants striving to leave a mark in the history of the United States and the whole world would help him in it
16:31, 25 November 2020

Open source

In 2011, Biden said that he looked in Putin’s eyes, but did not see the soul there. Putin's answer was: "We understand each other." Now, when Biden has become the 46th president of the United States, and Putin could remain in the Kremlin until 2036 thanks to the amendments to the Constitution, their relationship is at risk of being the coldest in the history of contacts between the leaders of Russia and the United States.

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In Russia, Biden's foreign policy is often compared to Obama’s one. Indeed, many of those who will now receive posts in the State Department, National Security Council, Department of Defense, and the US Mission to the United Nations have worked under Obama. However, Biden himself is a man far more sophisticated in matters of foreign policy than his former boss.

Biden is 78 years old, and unlike Obama, he saw the Cold War with his own eyes and did not read about it in books. He became a senator in 1972 and first visited Moscow in 1979 when the ill-fated START II treaty was signed. He came here again ten years later, right after the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty - the same one that Trump pulled the US out of last year.

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A photo of Biden shaking hands with Gromyko was widely disseminated on Russian social networks. It perfectly illustrates the main difference between Biden and Obama in approaches to Russia: for Biden, the current confrontation with Moscow is a postscript to the Cold War, which, like the war itself, must be won by the United States.

Of course, Biden does not equate to Russia and the Soviet Union. Senator since the early 70s, long-term head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vice president for two presidential terms of Obama - Biden has been actively involved in world politics for almost half a century. Although he sees China as the main rival of the United States, he still calls Russia the main threat.

Biden says that Russia is in deep decline, is dying out, completely dependent on oil prices, and in general, it is a second-rate power under the control of corrupt KGB agents that is unable to compete with the West. He believes that Moscow is trying to weaken the West from within, undermine the unity of NATO, the European Union, and the liberal world order as a whole. For him, Russia is an aggressive, revanchist force that carries the confrontation with the United States beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union and is increasingly drawing closer to China.

At the same time, Biden does not believe that the attempt at the end of the Cold War to integrate Russia into the US-led international system was a mistake. The venture did not fail because of the expansion of NATO to the East – here Biden is not going to indulge what he considers Russian paranoia. Rather, the reason for the failure, from his point of view, was that power in Russia was in the hands of the law enforcers.

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However, Biden does not lose hope for the best. It may not have been possible to topple Putin in the style of the 2011-2012 Arab Spring, but new opportunities may open up in the future. Therefore, Biden believes that Russia cannot be driven into a corner: firstly, then it will become too dangerous for the United States, and secondly because Putin retains power only thanks to nationalism and anti-American sentiments. Someday Russia will come to its senses, abandon Putin's policy, and realize that it cannot develop without cooperation with the West.

All this allows us to judge Biden's future policy in the Russian direction. Most likely, he will establish coordination in the work of various American departments with regard to Russia, launch an offensive against Moscow in cyberspace, strengthen relations with US allies and partners, and put pressure on Russia, forcing it to pay a high price for every wrongdoing.

As for the confrontation between the two countries, Biden will interpret it as a conflict not between the United States and Russia, but between the thieving Russian regime and the people. America in this conflict will support the Russian "underground civil society". So, under Biden, it is worth waiting for new exposing publications about corruption among the Russian leadership, which should discredit the Kremlin in the eyes of ordinary citizens.

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In addition to expanding the Russian-American confrontation through issues of democracy and human rights, Biden can also intensify the US presence in the post-Soviet space. Under Obama, he oversaw Ukraine, and in recent months has harshly criticized Russia for supporting Lukashenka and acting in Nagorno-Karabakh. Now that he has become president, there is no doubt that tension will be added between the United States and Russia in the post-Soviet space.

Biden's victory is likely to add unity to NATO's policies. In the past few months, Europe's position on Russia has tightened, moving closer to the American one. Germany has turned from a lawyer into the main critic of Russia in the European Union and is initiating new sanctions. Perhaps Biden will give the Germans the opportunity to decide the fate of Nord Stream 2 for themselves to overcome the rift between Washington and Berlin created by Trump. However, Washington's concerns about the EU's dependence on Russian energy will not go away. The American Congress is increasingly opposing any of Moscow's energy projects in Europe, so it is more likely that Biden will continue, following Trump, to put pressure on Germany to abandon Nord Stream 2.

Biden can continue Trump's policy with regard to the development and subsequent deployment in Europe of American medium-range missiles that will target Russian command posts and strategic facilities. Biden is in favor of maintaining the arms control system, including the extension of the START III treaty, but he prefers to negotiate from a position of strength, so he may well agree to deploy American missiles near Russian borders. If under Biden, the United States begins negotiations with Russia on strategic stability issues, they may turn out to be one of the toughest in the history of the issue.

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Strengthening relations with Europe may be accompanied by a mini-detente with China – Beijing is also striving for it. Both the first and the second will increase geopolitical pressure on Russia, which will further reduce its room for maneuver. All of these elements will become part of a broader strategy for the Biden administration in which Russia will be present, albeit not in a leading role. The ultimate goal of the White House appears to be to undermine the resistance of the Putin regime, destroy the quasi-alliance between Moscow and Beijing, and return Russia to the position of an appendage of the West.

The real Biden is far from the image created for him in the Russian media - a frail old man who will become only a nominal head of state. In fact, he is a hardened professional with vast foreign policy experience, good strategic thinking, and a willingness to act as tough as possible. A team of ambitious and energetic assistants will help him in this, striving to leave a mark in the history of the United States and the whole world.

Biden's presidential term expires at the same time as Putin's current term - in 2024. Over the years, the Russian president will have to decide whether he will run again, and much will have happened before that. So it is good that the Kremlin understands who they will have to deal with.

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Dmitriy Trenin

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