For 2 US leaders, all of it got here right down to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s soul.
“I regarded the person within the eye. I discovered him very simple and reliable – I used to be capable of get a way of his soul,” President George W Bush mentioned in 2000 after his first assembly with Putin, then a fledgeling, shy helmsman who sought the approval of Western political heavyweights.
On the time, Washington noticed Russia as an rising democracy convalescing from the phantom pains that adopted the lack of Moscow’s Chilly Warfare-era may. To Bush’s White Home, Moscow was a regional energy with a struggling economic system and a dysfunctional navy that would barely deal with Chechnya.
Eleven years later, US Vice President Joe Biden met with the seasoned, self-confident Putin, who was sitting out his two-term restrict as prime minister beneath his handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev.
Biden rebuked Putin for stifling opposition and persecuting oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Then their dialogue took a macabre flip.
“I’m trying into your eyes, and I don’t assume you could have a soul,” Biden recalled telling Putin throughout a 2011 assembly within the Kremlin, according to the New Yorker journal. “And he regarded again at me, and he smiled, and he mentioned, ‘We perceive each other.’”
Biden’s boss Barack Obama noticed a “reset” of ties with more and more assertive Moscow as one in every of his administration’s high priorities.
However then Putin crossed a political Rubicon or two.
Moscow “reestablished” its domination within the former Soviet Union with one in every of its smallest neighbours, Georgia, throughout a quick warfare in 2008.
Putin revived Russia’s clout within the Center East by repeatedly backing Iran, saving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s collapsing regime, and putting his bets on renegade normal Khalifa Haftar in war-dismembered Libya.
Moscow supported Ukrainian separatists, was reported to have backed Eurosceptic nationalists all through the European Union, and allegedly meddled within the 2016 presidential vote within the US that introduced his “buddy” Donald Trump to energy.
Biden would be the fifth US president to take care of Putin, who apparently understands that his probabilities of mending ties with the White Home are skinny as a reed.
Biden: ‘I’ll stand as much as autocrats like Putin’
Biden sees Russia as Washington’s archrival, the “largest risk” to America’s safety.
He already known as Putin’s authorities “paranoid” for poisoning opposition chief Alexey Navalny with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok.
“It’s the mark of a Russian regime that’s so paranoid that it’s unwilling to tolerate any criticism or dissent,” he mentioned in early October.
Biden’s strategy to Moscow is by way more constant than Trump’s – and is a part of his bigger technique of restoring America’s world clout. Biden intends to rebuild frayed ties with the EU and is set to revive strain on strongmen like Putin.
“Not like Trump, I’ll defend our democratic values and stand as much as autocrats like Putin,” Biden tweeted in August.
Observers see no silver lining within the clouds gathering above the Kremlin.
“Biden clearly promised to rally the West in opposition to Trumpism, the worldwide Trumpism,” Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow think-tank advised Al Jazeera. “And he sees Putin as a part of this world Trumpism.”
Silence from the Kremlin
In the meantime, the Kremlin has been intentionally quiet about Biden’s election victory.
Whereas most Western leaders despatched their congratulations to Biden on November 7, after a number of tv networks declared him the winner of the November 3 vote, Putin is ready for the ultimate tally.
“We imagine it’s right to attend for the official outcomes of the elections to be introduced,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov advised reporters throughout a telephone briefing on November 9.
After Trump’s 2016 victory, the Kremlin despatched out a felicitation inside hours.
Peskov cautiously expressed hope within the “normalisation” of ties with the brand new administration – however didn’t point out Biden, following an previous Kremlin custom of omitting the names of politicians that displeased Moscow.
In a uncommon comment in regards to the US election, Putin has additionally avoided naming Biden.
“We are going to work with any future president of the US – the one whom the American individuals give their vote of confidence,” Putin mentioned in a prolonged tv interview broadcast on October 7, his 68th birthday.
Professional-Kremlin tv networks and publications had been way more vocal.
They confirmed an archive clip of Soviet Prime Minister Andrey Gromyko assembly with congressman Biden in 1998. They ridiculed Biden’s age and alleged senility, and doubted the reliability of the US electoral system, echoing Trump’s unfounded claims a few “stolen election”.
Dmitri Kiselyov, a pro-Putin tv persona who as soon as mentioned the US needs to be became “radioactive ashes”, mentioned on his Sunday evening present that the election proved that the US is “not a rustic however an enormous, chaotic communal house, with a felony aptitude.”
“One factor is obvious – the US has dealt a crushing blow to the remnants of belief to the very process of the elections,” Vladimir Soloviev, one other widespread anchor, mentioned in a November 5 tweet.
Powerful on Putin
However how precisely can Biden strain Russia?
One of many flashpoints is a peace settlement in Ukraine, the place pro-Russian separatists have been combating the central authorities since 2014. Biden has repeatedly mentioned that he needs NATO to develop and, probably, embrace Ukraine.
Such a transfer will certainly antagonise Putin – and will incite extra violence within the separatist area of Donbass.
“Sturdy strain on Russia could set off an escalation in Donbass,” Aleksey Kushch, an analyst primarily based within the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, advised Al Jazeera.
One other strain level is financial.
The West has already sanctioned Moscow for annexing Crimea by banning the switch of subtle applied sciences for Russia’s oil and gasoline business and limiting credit for Russian banks and vitality firms.
The US has additionally sanctioned the development of Russia’s most essential vitality undertaking – the $11bn pure gasoline pipeline Nord Stream 2 designed to double Russia’s pipeline capability to take gasoline undersea to Europe and bypass Ukraine that will depend on hefty transit charges.
However whereas these sanctions harm Russia’s economic system, they’ve been utilized by some media to demonise the collective West.
What proved extra environment friendly is pinpointed private sanctions in opposition to high Russian officers, and Biden could develop the listing.
“I don’t rule out the start of great private sanctions [against top Russian officials], that proved to be handiest,” Gennady Gudkov, an exiled opposition chief and former lawmaker advised Al Jazeera.