In the wake of the December 14 vote by the Electoral College, which officially confirmed the election of Joseph Biden as the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President, Russian President Vladimir Putin finally, and reluctantly, congratulated the US President-elect. In November 2016, Putin was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory; in 2020, he was apparently the last head of state of a major world power to extend the same gesture to Biden. Putin sent his congratulations via telegram, expressing hope that Moscow and Washington can work together constructively to solve global problems “despite their differences”.
Yesterday (December 17), the Russian president held his annual “big” end-of-year press conference, an event that, once again, lasted over four hours. This time, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was held mostly online. During his remarks, Putin reiterated his hope of a constructive relationship with the incoming US administration and noted that Biden had previously stated he would prolong the New START nuclear arms control treaty, which expires on February 5, 2021. Another important point of interest to Putin and his subordinates is the nearly completed Nord Stream Two natural gas pipeline, the construction of which was temporarily halted by US sanctions targeting European pipeline servicing and building companies.
The pipeline has been strongly opposed by Poland, other Central European states and the European Commission; but it is defiantly promoted by Berlin and the German business sector, which is a major pro-Russian and pro-Putin lobbying force in Europe. According to Putin, Russia has “many, many friends in Germany.” Putin hopes Biden, who has expressed a desire to rebuild relationships with European allies, will drop the Trump administration’s sanctions against Nord Stream Two (more of which were just included in the recently passed Congressional 2021 defense authorization bill—see EDM, December 14), helping out the Kremlin leader and his allies (Kremlin.ru, December 17).
Putin strongly rejects—as supposedly a US intelligence community provocation—the notion that Russian hackers supported Trump’s 2016 election prospects in any way as well as all other reports, past or present, of Russian state-sponsored hacking. And he rebukes charges of any other Russian mischief on the international stage, like using the Novichok nerve agent to poison anyone. Putin declared Moscow to be a “white and fluffy” force for good in the world while the US is bad, ugly, dark and aggressive. According to Putin, last August’s alleged poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny by Novichok in Tomsk is a Western provocation and falsification.
According to the Kremlin head, a new arms race is already in full swing, and the United States is fully to blame—after Washington scrapped the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002, Moscow was forced to respond. Russia has been developing an array of superweapons, including various hyper-velocity innovations that are supposedly impossible to intercept. “The Americans have precision weapons but do not have hypersonic ones. Of course, they are developing them and catching up,” Putin claimed, “But when they do, we will be ready [with effective countermeasures].” The Russian president expressed confidence that the West and, specifically, the US archenemy have no recourse but to accept Russia as an equal entity and bargain for some quid pro quo . But it remains to be seen just how fruitful such bargaining will be with a Biden White House.
Read the full article here.