Biden’s Russia Policy: Estimates from Washington and Moscow

As Biden Follows Trump as President, US-Russia Relations Get Worse | CRUX

Experts believe that the new US administration will pay great attention to issues of human rights and democracy

The main event in the political life of the United States – inauguration of the President of the United States Joe Biden – was accompanied by a restrained statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry, indicating Moscow’s readiness «to work on the principles of equality and mutual consideration of interests» and containing a proposal to extend the START-3 treaty for five years without preconditions.

The Kremlin did not comment on the ceremony in Washington at all: the press secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov only said that no meetings or negotiations between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden were planned, because «international face-to-face communication is now essentially frozen due to the epidemiological situation».

Nevertheless, judging by the activity of political scientists speaking from the Kremlin positions, Moscow is tensely awaiting the first signs of what the new US administration’s policy towards Russia will be..

Some of the next steps are already clear: for example, the new administration in Washington, like the Kremlin, wants to extend the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty (START-3), which expires in February. – The White House has confirmed that it intends to extend it for five years. However, apart from this, there is little clarity in the Biden’s team’s approaches to how to contact Moscow..

Europe has already called on the US to work together on challenges from the east: the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the arrest of Alexei Navalny, in which it stressed that the EU should take advantage of the change of administration in Washington «to strengthen transatlantic unity in defending democracy and fundamental values ​​from authoritarian regimes».

How will the United States act in the context of growing ties between Russia and China? What place will human rights and democracy take in Joe Biden’s Russia policy? Will Washington be able to join forces with Europe in an attempt to return Russia to compliance with the agreements it itself has signed??

Some answers to these questions could be obtained from the committee meetings held in the Senate earlier this week, at which people represented by Joe Biden for key positions in the administration answered questions from lawmakers..

Candidates for the positions of the US secretary of state and the country‘s defense secretary, Tony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, said that Russia will remain a matter of concern for Washington. In particular, Blinken, stating that the United States intends to extend START III, made it clear that other steps towards the Kremlin should not be expected..

Tony Blinken condemned the Russian authorities for persecuting opposition leader Alexei Navalny, stating: «It’s amazing how much Vladimir Putin is afraid of one person… Mr. Navalny represents the opinion of millions and millions of Russians, and their opinion must be heard in Russia».

In turn, Lloyd Austin insists that Russia should be held responsible for the massive hacking of US government networks last year, if its involvement in this is confirmed (experts interviewed «Voice of America», have practically no doubt about this).

Both Blinken and Austin support the supply of weapons to Ukraine that can protect it from Moscow’s aggressive behavior.

On January 21, the Washington Post, citing senior U.S. officials, reported that Biden ruled out the possibility of a new «reboots» in relations with Moscow. On the same day, the President of the United States instructed the country’s new director of National Intelligence, Avril Haynes, to investigate Russia’s involvement in last year’s computer hacking and other malicious actions of Moscow..

Gregory Feifer: there are many people in the Biden administration who know Russia well

Gregory Phifer, Executive Director of the Institute of Contemporary World Relations in Washington, in a conversation with the Russian Service «Voices of America» expressed his joy that competent people will be engaged in Russia in the Biden administration:

«Moscow is a serious problem, manifesting itself all over the world – in Syria, Ukraine, Belarus, it exports corruption to Western Europe and even to the United States. The new administration is very well equipped to tackle these challenges: many in it, from future CIA director William Burns – former ambassador to Russia, prior to US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who negotiated with the Kremlin on Ukraine, knows Russia well and is a pragmatist».

«Biden’s Russia policy will enjoy bipartisan support, something that Trump, inexplicably mild with Putin, did not. In this regard, Biden will have quite wide opportunities in policy towards Russia: on the one hand, he will clearly be active in matters of democracy and human rights, and may also impose additional sanctions due to problems in this area. On the other hand, we see that on issues such as START III, the new administration will be in contact with Russia, and such contacts in the security sphere will be maintained.», – suggests Gregory Phifer.

The director of the Institute of Contemporary World Relations says that the incoming team also understands that over the past four years, the global balance of power has changed: «Andrea Kendall-Taylor, the new director for Russia at the National Security Council, co-authored a report this month that highlighted the growing ties between China and Russia. So, it is clear that she understands the problem and views it precisely as a combined threat. At the same time, China, and this has already been said by Blinken, is considered by the new administration as the main challenge. And he has already talked about his approach to this challenge: he talks about the need to restart transatlantic cooperation as the main task of the Biden administration».

John Herbst: President’s statements will be in line with US policy

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine and Head of the Atlantic Council Eurasian Program John Herbst in an interview «Voice of America» stated that the main advantage of the new US administration in foreign policy, he sees its integrity:

«I think we will see a consistent policy, firm and principled in the sense of opposing Moscow in its attempts to achieve its malicious goals. We will see much more support for Ukraine in its war with Russia in Donbass, an increase in sanctions related to this war, with Russia’s interference in our internal affairs and in European elections. The behavior and statements of President Biden himself will fully comply with US policy towards Moscow, which was not the case under Trump.».

Biden's Russia Policy: Estimates from Washington and Moscow

«In addition to START III, the extension of which is almost a foregone conclusion, the parties can return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which Washington and Moscow withdrew under Trump, and revive negotiations on the Open Skies Treaty. But despite a clear desire to negotiate strategic arms, Biden will not tolerate the Kremlin’s aggressive actions.», – predicted by John Herbst.

Herbst has no doubts that the Kremlin will take the possible actions of the Biden administration very seriously, and the sanctions will not disappear anywhere: «It should be remembered that the sanctions under Obama, Trump, and now under Biden still work: they made Russia suffer economic losses because of its actions, and this is a high price, despite the fact that it did not deter Moscow from aggression in Ukraine.».

Victoria Zhuravleva: sanctions for Navalny may be introduced soon

Experts in Moscow also speculate on the specifics of Joe Biden’s policy in the Russian direction.

Victoria Zhuravleva, Head of the Center for North American Studies, IMEMO RAN, answered the question «Voices of America» on possible priorities of the Biden administration in the field of human rights during an expert roundtable organized by video link by the agency «Interfax». In her opinion, the human rights topic will be very important for the new owner of the White House in relations with Russia: «It seems to me that the struggle for democracy will be one of the main elements of US foreign policy. This will undoubtedly have a decisive influence on Russian-American relations – the topic of human rights is likely to fully return to the forefront in these relations.».

«It starts right away, – continues the Russian political scientist, – because now in connection with Navalny, the United States has already openly declared its tough stance on what is happening. Accordingly, they will strive to unite in their actions with the Europeans. Perhaps the emergence of a new sanctions law, already aimed specifically at this topic. I think it will be done pretty quickly».

Three consensus – against China, against Russia, for NATO

During the same round table in «Interfax» Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, suggested that the United States under Biden could take a more proactive stance towards countries that maintain close ties with Moscow: «There will be more activity along the perimeter of Russian borders, in countries such as Belarus, Armenia, in the countries of Central Asia allied with Russia, and probably in Moldova».

According to Trenin, the United States under Biden will try to «pull Turkey away from Russia, and, probably, steps will be taken to weaken Russian-Indian relations, to make India a fully partner and ally (the United States – ed.) in the Chinese direction».

Guest discussion in «Interfax» from the United States, the director of the consulting firm Kissinger Associates and ex-diplomat Thomas Graham, in turn, believes that the basis for a stable foreign policy can be three issues on which there is a bipartisan agreement in America: «An anti-Chinese consensus, an anti-Russian consensus and a pro-NATO consensus have already taken shape. And this will form the foundation of the new policy of the Biden administration.».

Biden's Russia Policy: Estimates from Washington and Moscow