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Douglas Andrews / Mar. 23, 2021

Did Putin Play Biden?

The president’s stumble on the stairs of Air Force One was a metaphor for a very bad week in foreign policy.

It was as if our two greatest geopolitical foes had compared notes and coordinated their attacks. And while we take no joy in saying that both of them took Joe Biden’s lunch money, it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Over the weekend, China’s director of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi, roughed up his American counterpart, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, during bilateral talks in Anchorage. How bad was it? “Let me say here that in front of the Chinese side,” said Yang at the end of a contemptuous 20-minute dressing-down, “the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.”

But the debacle in Alaska might not have been the worst part of the week for Team Biden. Earlier last week, Biden had ruffled the feathers of Russia’s anti-Western president, Vladimir Putin, whom he characterized as a killer during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Biden also said Putin will “pay a price” for Russia’s efforts to interfere once again in our elections.

Putin responded to the “killer” comment two days later, saying, somewhat unoriginally, “It takes one to know one.”

But he said much more than that. In a separate interview, Putin elaborated: “With regard to my U.S. colleague’s remark, we have, indeed, as he said, met in person. What would I tell him? I would say ‘stay healthy.’ I wish him good health. I am saying this without irony or tongue in cheek.”

Putin added, “Secondly, taking a broader approach to this matter, I would like to say that difficult, dramatic, and bloody events abound in the history of every nation and every state. But when we evaluate other people, or even other states and nations, we are always facing a mirror, we always see ourselves in the reflection, because we project our inner selves onto the other person. You know, I remember when we were children and played in the yard, we had arguments occasionally and we used to say, ‘Whatever you call me is what you are called yourself.’ This is no coincidence or just a kids’ saying or joke. It has a very deep psychological undercurrent.”

Perhaps Biden’s silence was a further provocation, but Putin didn’t stop there. Instead, he challenged the American president to an on-air conversation to discuss Biden’s “pay a price” warning.

“I’ve just thought of this now,” Putin told a reporter Thursday. “I want to invite President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it actually live. But with no delays, directly in an open, direct discussion.”

Putin said he thought the dialogue between the leaders of the world’s two superpowers (China’s Xi Jinping apparently couldn’t be reached for comment) would prove interesting for the U.S. and Russian people and the international community.

The White House’s response? Joe Biden is “quite busy.” To which the Russian Foreign Ministry responded, “One more opportunity has been missed to find a way out of the deadlock in Russian-U.S. relations created through the fault of Washington.” It added that “responsibility for this lies entirely with the United States.”

Biden doesn’t get any diplomatic points for calling Putin a killer, but he does get credit for calling a spade a spade — first, because Putin is a killer, and second, because no American president before him, Democrat or Republican, had ever taken such a tough tack toward the Russian strongman.

The question is, does Biden have the mettle and the cognitive capability to back it up, or have he and his handlers already been bullied into a corner by Putin?

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