Moscow reacts strongly to Biden’s attack on Putin. In reality, the relations between the two politicians are just taking shape.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, each U.S. president has started his term of office by testing relations with Russia. Joe Biden, who knows Moscow’s intentions better than anyone else, has taken a different course. On Tuesday, he allowed the CIA to publish a report about how Vladimir Putin had Russian agencies conduct diversionary actions to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
Later, in an interview with ABC, Biden said yes when asked whether the Russian leader is a “murderer” and asserted that Moscow “will pay the price” for the attempt to undercut American democracy.
The Kremlin reacted to that by summoning its ambassador in Washington for consultation. Although America has not yet followed suit, the White House is expected to impose new sanctions on Russia in the coming days. For Washington, this is also a way to settle the score for the cyberattack on American offices and SolarWinds firms directed from Moscow as well as for the arrest of Alexei Navalny.
“Our relations will be different. Russia will be held accountable for actions it has taken,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Yes to New Start
The world is asking whether U.S.-Russian relations are entering a new Cold War era. For now, it is hard to give an unequivocal answer.
Tension between Russia and the U.S. coincided with the meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s chief diplomat, Wang Yi, in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. Biden has assumed his predecessor’s hard line position toward Beijing, however, Biden wants to handle things differently as part of a broad coalition. He has already managed to ensure the involvement of Japan and South Korea. Relations with Moscow will be subordinated to this incomparably more important conflict.
The new president, however, has already agreed to an unconditional five-year extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Within NATO, many think this signals the softening of the policy toward Moscow. Trump sought an extension of the New START in exchange for the Kremlin’s agreement to freeze the tactical nuclear weapons program as well as adding China to the deal. Now there is no chance of that happening.
Another test for Biden’s policy is Nord Stream 2. State Department Press Secretary Ned Price said that the U.S. has assured Poland the new administration opposes the project. But on Friday, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz blocked the nomination of William Burns as director of the CIA as long as Biden, who wants to avoid a confrontation with Berlin, does not impose sufficient sanctions to force the ultimate abandonment of the gas pipe construction Earlier on Feb. 17, a group of Democratic and Republican senators wrote the president urging him to stop “Russian malign influence” by blocking Nord Stream 2.
For now, different options are under consideration to break the gridlock. The first involves completing construction in the fall after Angela Merkel retires from office. Another option is to include Poland and Ukraine in negotiating a compromise that would work for the European Union, or introducing means to withhold construction supplies if Russia behaves in an even more aggressive manner.
Fort Trump Unchanged
From Warsaw’s perspective, even more can be deduced about Biden’s actual position regarding Moscow based on the implementation of a deal to strengthen American military presence in our country. “We are in purgatory, Biden is not calling Duda because he wants to show that until now, our country bet so heavily on his rival, they now must bear the consequences,” diplomatic sources told Rzeczpospolita.
But according to the diplomats, implementation of the “Fort Trump” deal, which involves a number of activities that includes increasing U.S. forces to 5,500 troops, construction of heavy weapon warehouses, and development of the U.S. Army Fifth Corps forward command in Poznań, is progressing according to plan. This is a signal that Biden will not sacrifice Poland’s interests on the altar of improving relations with the Kremlin. Our sources also indicate that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has assured the National Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak in a telephone conversation that these plans will be continued.
Although Biden’s administration is still being formed, and the new chief of mission will come to Warsaw this summer at the earliest, some of these nominations are encouraging. One of them is the appointment of Eric Green, Georgette Mosbacher’s deputy ambassador under Trump, to the National Security Council, where he will handle Russian affairs.