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Joe Biden Seems Destined to Start a Crisis with Russia

Joe Biden Russia

Washington’s relations with Moscow have been deteriorating for more than two decades. The decision by Bill Clinton’s administration to expand NATO, the most powerful military alliance in world history, eastward toward a weakened, demoralized Russia was a fateful, provocative step. George W. Bush’s attempt to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the Alliance deepened the suspicions of Russia’s leaders. The Obama administration’s meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs to help demonstrators overthrow a democratically elected, the pro-Russia government pushed Moscow over the edge, leading Vladimir Putin to annex Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. When the United States and its NATO allies responded to the annexation by imposing an array of economic sanctions, a full-fledged new cold war was underway.

Joe Biden’s administration seems determined to make an already bad situation even worse. Hostility toward Russia pervaded his February speech to the annual Munich Security Conference, but that address barely scratched the surface of his animosity. In his first conversation with Putin in early February, Biden contended that the United States was done “rolling over” in the face of Russian “aggression.” The notion that Washington has ever rolled over supinely in its relations with the Kremlin was utter nonsense. Despite the pervasive myth, which Biden and other Democrats fostered, that Donald Trump was “Putin’s puppet” and pursued an appeasement policy toward Moscow, the reality was quite different. The Trump administration’s policy was even more hardline than that of its predecessors and included multiple arms sales to Ukraine, a marked increase in the pace and scope of NATO military exercises, further expansion of NATO’s membership, and active measures to undermine Russia’s client regime in Syria.

Biden’s decision to convey a message to Putin that he intended to make U.S. policy toward Russia even tougher raised tensions to unprecedented levels. Unfortunately, the administration’s actions have matched the provocative rhetoric. In mid-March, the Commerce Department announced an array of new sanctions in response to the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.  Washington deployed nuclear-capable B-1 bombers to Norway for the first time in NATO’s history. The administration stepped up efforts to prevent the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and especially heavy-handed initiative to deny Russia revenue from a willing customer.

The new president’s boorish behavior regarding relations with Russia has been breathtaking at times. When asked in a media interview if he considered Putin “a killer,” Biden did not engage in a verbal evasion—which even a basic sense of diplomacy demanded. Instead, he answered “I do,” adding that he believed the Russian president had “no soul.” That stance was in marked contrast to a similar incident in 2011 when PBS’s Jim Lehrer asked then-Vice President Biden if he considered Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, a “dictator.” Biden firmly refused to use that term—although it was fully justified. It is striking that he made no similar attempt at diplomatic finesse regarding a much more important foreign leader.

His comment was an inflammatory insult to the leader of a powerful country, and it triggered a new crisis in Washington’s relations with Russia. The Kremlin immediately recalled its ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov on March 17. As of early April, Antonov had not returned to his post, and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that there were no plans yet for him to do so.  Lavrov added that Biden’s remark had been “appalling,” and that it had forced Russia to fundamentally reassess its ties with the United States. Russia’s relations with the United States and its allies, he concluded, had reached “rock bottom.”

A statement from the Russian government on April 2 raises an especially worrisome possibility. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine would force Russia to take “additional measures to ensure its own security.” It was a somewhat curious comment. Although NATO forces have joined Ukrainian units in joint military exercises on several occasions, there has been no statement from Washington or NATO headquarters indicating an intention to station U.S. or Alliance troops in Ukraine on an ongoing basis. Yet Russia apparently suspects (perhaps from intelligence intercepts?) that there may be plans to do so, and the Kremlin’s warning implies that Russia is prepared to take decisive action in response to any such move.  One hopes that this is merely a false alarm, but given the Biden administration’s other measures, the possibility of such a reckless initiative cannot be dismissed.

Washington’s confrontational policy toward a country with several thousand nuclear warheads would be unwise even taken in isolation. But to adopt such a course when U.S. relations with another great power rival, China, are already reaching cold war levels is the essence of folly.  As Independent Institute scholar Ivan Eland aptly points out, the United States can ill-afford to take on Russia and China simultaneously. The Biden administration needs to back off from its provocative posture toward Russia before it puts the United States in exactly that untenable position.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books and more than 900 articles on international affairs.

Written By

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of 12 books and more than 900 articles on international affairs.  His books include (with Doug Bandow) The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004).



  1. John C.

    April 3, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    Joe Biden is using Russia to hide his weakness on China. Russia is a regional power, China is an enemy of the United States of America and the free world. China seeks world dominance. It’s not surprising that the left no long loves Russia, they loved the Communist Soviet Union, worshiped it, but once their beloved Communist state collapsed they hated those who couldn’t keep the their beloved failed ideology going. China is now their beloved, it is a communist authoritarian State that enslaves people, murders and tortures people and keeps people under the heavy hand of the state, naturally the left loves them and wishes they could be like them. Biden and his kind, or those who control the senile dolt, love authoritarianism, love to control other peoples’ lives even thought they themselves are completely incompetent. Look at how they relish the lockdowns. Biden is a disaster and will only get worse and it will be no better when Commie la Harris replaces him before the years end.

  2. Kay

    April 10, 2021 at 5:05 am

    The Chinese have their own culture. Chinese culture is too different to make world dominance a possibility. If you read Chinese history, typically China wants to shield itself from the outside; building walls so the barbarians do not get in. Today this wall is mainly the Chinese language. The Chinese languag is a barrier which keeps, for instance, US unemployed from seeking a job in China.

    China is a dictatorship, true. But the emperor is accepted as long as he delivers. So far, he has. The Chinese government has provided a timely and adequate response to the Corona virus. Had the corona virus resulted in deaths, similar to the number of deaths in the USA, the Chinese Communist Party would be no more.

  3. Carlton Meyer

    April 10, 2021 at 4:14 pm

    This is part of the long-term effort to expand NATO to cover all of Europe and surround Russia, as explained in this short video.

  4. Pink Baron

    April 10, 2021 at 5:36 pm

    NATO should have been dissolved after the Cold War ended but it has expanded its membership. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved. The US and NATO are stirring up trouble in Ukraine.
    The US helps its Pacific allies stir up trouble with China. The US seeks world domination and it has been going on even before WWII.

  5. Hegar

    April 11, 2021 at 7:52 am

    The Israeli Lobby always gets what it wants. Russia supports Syria and somewhat supports Iran, both of which oppose the taking of the last eight percent of Palestinian land, so the Lobby demands Russia be destroyed. That one issue gets to determine U.S. relations, because anyone in Washington who opposes the Lobby would be targeted by their related donors and members of the media boardrooms.

    Regarding “Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula”, let’s remember that Crimea is Russian, period. It has been Russian longer than California has been part of the U.S. Ukraine is farther to the west, and was stretched eastward only on Soviet paper, for administrative purposes.

    The Crimeans voted to belong to Russia in the 1990s, but the corrupt Yeltsin with his four Harvard handlers refused. He forced the Russians in Crimea to belong to Ukraine. Of course they would vote again after a Washington-funded coup overthrew democracy – and the first thing the coupsters did, on day one, was to ban the Russian language in schools and the military and the administration. Then they burned more than twenty pro-democracy protesters to death. Almost every single voter in Crimea voted to go back to Russia.

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