President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland en route to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Can Joe Biden Get Real About Russia?

President Biden’s description of President Putin as a ‘worthy adversary’, in advance of their summit today, was a sensible move. On the one hand, it restores the basic civility necessary for any diplomatic exchange, after Biden’s unfortunate ‘killer’ remark. After all, the conduct of international relations by a superpower is a serious matter — and part of Biden’s own international prestige lies in his restoration of dignity to the US presidency after the flamboyant excesses of Trump.

The ‘adversary’ remark also emphasizes the adversarial nature of the relationship and shuns the absurd and discredited language of ‘partnership’ and ‘looking into Putin’s soul’ engaged in by previous presidents (even if Biden, before becoming president, claims that he told the Russian leader he didn’t think he has a soul.)

Most of all, the statement is accurate. If US-Russia relations are to be viewed in realist terms as a competition of US and Russian national interests (which is how all members of the Russian establishment and most members of the US establishment have seen them for the past 15 years or so) then Putin is indeed a worthy adversary: a ruthless and skillful defender of Russian national interests, who on the whole has played a series of weak hands with considerable skill.

To understand the strength of Putin’s position when it comes to defending Russian international interests (as opposed to domestic interests, where his deeply corrupt set-up is becoming increasingly unpopular), it is vital to understand that while Putin is obviously much more personally powerful than Western leaders, he is still the leader of the Russian foreign and security establishment — or as former Obama adviser Ben Rhodes dubbed the US equivalent, a blob.

Read the full article in The Spectator.

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