Democrats and Republicans, while taking opposite positions on a number of fundamental issues, seem to have found common ground on an anti-Russia policy. While Republicans welcome President Joe Biden’s criticism of Russia, they emphasize that Donald Trump also pursued a tough policy toward Moscow, and that it was only Trump’s public remarks that were not firm.
“I would get along very well with Vladimir Putin,” former President Donald Trump said. These words, like many other similar remarks, not only gave rise to Russia’s hopes for improving relations with the United States, but also established Trump’s reputation as a “friend of Vladimir Putin” according to the Democrats.
Trump’s mythic weakness in facing Russia not only gave rise to investigation, but was a subject in current President Joe Biden’s election campaign. As one recalls, Biden called Trump Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”
The image created by political opponents hardly correlated with reality. The Trump administration became one of the most anti-Russian in modern history, and other Republican politicians had a similar attitude.
Therefore, Biden’s decisive rhetoric in the wake of his phone conversation with Putin, in which the American leader cited a large-scale cyberattack, the case of Alexei Navalny, and alleged reports of Russia placing bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan was, for many American politicians, a long-awaited change in the tone of the White House.
“All of the noise around Putin and Trump was really more about what [Trump] was unwilling to say publicly,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview with Politico. “But in terms of public policy, there hasn’t been an administration that’s taken tougher steps on Russia.”
“Clearly, Putin is a malign force in the world. He is a terrible leader. He is thuggish in his behavior. And I’m glad we’re pushing back,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, one of the Republican Party leaders, in his reaction to the Biden-Putin conversation.
The influential Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, also weighed in. McConnell believes the Trump administration took decisive action against Russia and both parties should preserve this legacy. He believes Republicans are ready for this. “If President Biden and his team are serious about contesting China, Russia, and these other threats, they’ll need to show it,” McConnell said. “Without continued, robust investment in a modern, global force presence, American leadership would be little more than hollow rhetoric.”
However, McConnell and his fellow party members have found even Biden to be too soft on Putin, especially in matters related to the extension of the New START treaty, which both leaders agreed to extend for five years. McConnell warned Democrats against “worshiping arms control like a religion.”
His Texas colleague, Sen. John Cornyn, echoed the criticism: “There’s nothing Putin would like better than a clean extension of New START. That’s a huge gift to him.”
Democrats nonetheless stress that the tough stance on Russia will not go away but should be separated from arms control. “I’m glad that while the president is pursuing extending the New START agreement, at the same time he’s being hard-edged with Russia on all of those things. Russia only understands strength, so this is a tremendous beginning. I think you’ll not just see the words that President Biden used, but you’ll see actions commensurate with those words,” Sen. Bob Menendez, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, assured Politico.