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In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville admonished his educated European readers claiming that "[t] oday there are two great peoples on earth who, starting from different points, seem to advance toward the same goal: these are the Russians and the Anglo-Americans. Both grew up in obscurity; and while the attention of men was occupied elsewhere, they suddenly took their place in the first rank of nations, and the world learned of their birth and their greatness nearly at the same time. All other peoples seem to have almost reached the limits drawn by nature, and have nothing more to do except maintain themselves; but these two are growing.5 All the others have stopped or move ahead only with a thousand efforts; these two alone walk with an easy and rapid stride along a path whose limit cannot yet be seen. The American struggles against obstacles that nature opposes to him; the Russian is grappling with men. The one combats the wilderness and barbarism; the other, civilization clothed in all its arms. Consequently the conquests of the American are made with the farmers plow, those of the Russian with the soldiers sword. To reach his goal the first relies on personal interest, and, without directing them, allows the strength and reason of individuals to operate. The second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man. The one has as principal means of action liberty; the other, servitude. Their point of departure is different, their paths are varied; nonetheless, each one of them seems called by a secret design of Providence to hold in its hands one day the destinies of half the world. (2010, 655-656)

Russia - US Relations

Edward W. Walker, the comparative political scientist who worked at UC Berkeley from 1993 to 2017, argued in April 2019 that "Putin's decision to return to the presidency, as well as his 2012 policy pivot, were the product of his understanding of Russia's - and not simply his own - interests. In my view, Putin, and indeed most of the Russian political elite, genuinely believe that the United States, and the West broadly, pose a threat to Russian political stability and security. They are convinced that Western democracy promotion, and the West's public embrace of "universal values," are hypocritical smokescreens masking U.S. ambitions to remain the world's sole superpower and geopolitical hegemon. They also are convinced that the changes advocated by Western democracy promoters would produce chaos at home and weakness abroad, not prosperity and strength. And they understand the tolerance entailed in liberalism as incompatible with traditional Russian values and Russian 'civilization'..... the Russian political elite, including those few who are still relatively well-disposed toward liberal democracy, have cause to believe that while the United States insists that other states comply with the rules of the "liberal international order," it acts as if it, and it alone, has the right to violate those rules.

"Russia's mass oppositional demonstrations [in 2011] ... only reinforced his conviction that the West was simply incapable of refraining from destabilizing non-democratic regimes, and that Russia, sooner-or-later, would be in its crosshairs. That in turn suggests why Putin would then authorize a concerted Russian assault on Western democracy, a risky project that goes well beyond demonizing the United States and its allies at home. For Putin, Russia is simply doing to the West what the West has been doing to it. And he intends to win the 'meddling war'."

President George W Bush said in 2000 after his first meeting with Putin, I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy I was able to get a sense of his soul. Im looking into your eyes, and I dont think you have a soul, Biden recalled telling Putin during a 2011 meeting in the Kremlin, according to the New Yorker magazine. And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, We understand one another.

During an interview on CBS News 60 Minutes program, Joe Biden argued late in October, two weeks out from polling day, that the biggest threat to the United States right now, in the sense of breaking our security and our alliances, its Russia. Joe Biden became a U.S. senator in 1972 and visited the USSR a year later in 1973. Six years later, in August 1979, he returned on an official visit. As the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended and Biden advanced up the political ladder, he had to deal with newly independent Russia in the position as Vice President of the U.S. in the Obama administration. Since 2011, Biden has grown increasingly suspicious of Moscows intentions and criticized Vladimir Putins foreign policy on several occasions.

Biden already called Putins government paranoid for poisoning opposition leader Alexey Navalny with the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. It is the mark of a Russian regime that is so paranoid that it is unwilling to tolerate any criticism or dissent, he said in early October 2020.

Biden became Putin's fifth US president, a line-up that started with Bill Clinton. Putin had mixed feelings about the former vice-president. On the one hand, Biden was one of those members of former President Barack Obama's administration who did not hide their sympathy for Dmitry Medvedev, Putin's stand-in in 2008-2012, and hoped that he would run for a second presidential term. Putin does not forget nor, allegedly, forgive such perceived slights.

But, on the other hand, Putin openly despised the Obama-Biden administration, considering it weak and indecisive. It resisted and dithered before the adoption by Congress of the Magnitsky Act, designed to punish those who abuse human rights. It sat back when Syrian leader Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his Syrian civilians, thus erasing its own so-called "red lines" and then watched helplessly as Russia sent its air force and bailed out the Syrian dictator. Even more important for Putin was Obama's initially restrained reaction to the annexation of Crimea, and, finally, his staunch refusal to supply the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons. It was the Trump administration that reversed this policy.

So Putin waited to see whether the Biden-Harris administration becomes Team Obama 3.0 or pursues a tougher line vis-a-vis Moscow. It probably won't take long to figure out. Biden's team will very soon have to come into direct contact with the Russian leadership to begin negotiations on a new strategic offensive arms treaty to replace the START-3 agreement, which was signed in 2011 by Obama and Medvedev. Moscow and Washington now discuss extending it for a year.

Moscow can count on the abiding interest Biden has shown throughout his political career regarding the subject of arms control. And it so happens that the 2011 New START agreement, the lone surviving US-Russia arms pact, is due to expire on 5th February unless both parties extend it (for up to another five years), which is deceptively easy if only the two presidents agree to do so.

The Democratic Party 2020 platform stated "Democrats will join our European partners in standing up to a revanchist Russia. We will not allow Moscow to interfere in our democracies or chip away at our resolve. We will reaffirm Americas commitment to NATO and defending our allies. We will maintain transatlantic support for Ukraines reform efforts and its territorial integrity. Democrats will lower regionaland globalthreats by reinforcing nuclear arms control"

There were three topics that the Kremlin watched to see how the Biden White House proceeds: Belarus, Alexei Navalny's poisoning, and Europe especially Germany.

Will the new administration increase pressure on Lukashenko's regime in Belarus? From Putin's point of view, this will show whether the new president is ready to resist Moscow's desire to control the post-Soviet space, including Ukraine.

Will Biden condemn the attempted murder of the Russian opposition leader in the same way as the EU did? Putin believes that during the Moscow protests in 2011-2012, the Obama administration supported the protesters in the hope of preventing his return to the Kremlin. Given the Kremlin's obsession with the threat of US-sponsored "regime change," the attitude of Biden and his people towards Navalny is a topic of utmost importance for Putin.

The attitude of the Democratic administration towards the Nord Stream-2 project also holds as much weight. The Trump administration, with congressional support, is putting pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to abandon the nearly completed gas pipeline. The Kremlin views it as a tool of economic pressure on Ukraine that will rob Kyiv of a significant part of its Russian gas transit revenues. Berlin is resisting Trump's pressure.

Putin: We are white and fluffy.Russia is "harmless and squeaky-clean" compared to Western countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at an annual press conference on 17 December 2020 in response to a question of a BBC reporter. The BBC representative asked a question about reasons for worsening relations between Russia and the West and wondered whether the Russian leader felt himself responsible for it, at least partially, or Russia is "harmless and squeaky-clean."

"Now, about us being harmless and squeaky-clean. Compared to you, yes, it is a fact, we are harmless and squeaky-clean because we agreed to release from an unequivocal Soviet dictate those countries and nations that wanted to develop independently. We heard your assurances that NATO wont expand to the East but you didnt keep your promises," the Russian leader responded. The president noted that those were not written guarantees but verbal promises yet emphasized that none of them were kept as a result.

Putin then continued to compare Russian policy with the actions of the Western countries over past decades. "Did we withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty? It wasnt us who did that. And we are forced to respond by creating new weapon systems that curb threats. Then our colleagues withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Was it us who withdrew? No, that was our American partners. Accordingly, we said that we wont produce and deploy such weapon systems as long as American weapons dont arrive in Europe. Yet nobody responds to this, nobody reacts. Then they withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty. What are we supposed to do then? I dont want to ask you this question but what are we supposed to do after this? Just let it be? So you, as a NATO country, will fly over us and report everything to the American partners and we will be deprived of this opportunity regarding American territory," he said, addressing the Western journalist.

"Why do you think that we are idiots? Why do you think that we cannot see some obvious things? There are some other issues that cause our concern. We are forced to react to them," the Russian leader added. Compared to you we are white and fluffy. We are set up for dialogue [White and fluffy is a Russian expression, synonymous with honest, well-meaning, decent.]

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 08-01-2021 14:00:22 ZULU