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“You think he’s a killer?”

Biden and Putin: a new confrontation.

Stephanopoulos: “ What price must he pay? ”

Biden: “He will pay a price. You’ll see shortly. We had a long talk, he and I when we -- I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off, I said, 'I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.”

Stephanopoulos: “So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he's a killer?”

Biden: “Mmm-hmm, I do.”

The exchange of words between ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and President Joe Biden during an exclusive interview on March 16, 2021, has caused a stir, appearing on the pages of numerous newspapers over the past week.

President Biden's strong statements were prompted by an unclassified report released by the US Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on March 15, 2021, aimed at assessing "foreign actors’ intentions and efforts to influence or interfere with the 2020 US federal elections or to undermine public confidence in the US election process."

After an investigation conducted in 2020, the IC concluded that several foreign actors, including the Russian Federation, influenced the 2020 US elections. Indeed, as reported by the Intelligence Community: "President Putin and the Russian state authorised and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US presidential election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US." Furthermore, it confirmed President Putin's acknowledgement of these meddling operations.

It was almost impossible for such assertions to go unnoticed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, surprisingly, reacted calmly.

On Thursday, 18 March 2021, Putin appeared on television, denying the Russian meddling in the 2020 US federal elections. Russian President, subsequently, wished President Biden good health, stressing, however, the "unprecedented" nature of the provocation and its detrimental effect on the already fragile bilateral relations of the two nations. In an attempt to resolve the situation that had been created, Putin immediately requested a live public video call with Biden for clarifications. The live nature of the video call would be a unique feature. Indeed, by and large, all conversations between countries’ leaders occur behind closed doors. However, in this case, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked for a call broadcasted to all constituents, most likely to prevent further complications. Meanwhile, Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador in Washington, has been summoned to Moscow for consultations as a precaution.

Unfortunately, during a press conference on the same day, March 18, 2021, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined Russian President Vladimir Putin's request, stating that President Joe Biden has already discussed with the Russian President and does not regret labelling him as a killer. He is currently busy in Georgia, in any case.

It is noteworthy that by attentively observing the American President's comments, several prominent figures, researchers, and journalists suggest that there might be a strategy at work behind it. According to Garret Martin, Political Analyst of the American University, DC and Ellen Nakashima, Journalist of the Washington Post, the use of the term killer is a way to send a clear message about the Biden administration's position, most likely to be harder on Russia than the previous one. It is also a message to US allies; in fact, the restoration of the Atlantic Alliance and cooperation with the European Union are critical components of the US strategy.

Interestingly, there seems to be another concerning problem for the United States lurking behind such strong words: North Stream 2. North Stream 2 is a pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany, excluding Poland and Ukraine, launched in 2011. The US has expressed strong opposition to the project from the beginning, warning Germany and other European countries that a deal with Gazprom would make the EU highly reliant on Russian gas. However, the issue is political, in that Europe should be an ally of the United States, but it is gradually moving closer to Russia. Indeed, in order to avoid Europe's estrangement, Biden has threatened severe sanctions against all European companies involved in the construction of the pipeline.

The exclusive Biden interview to ABC News' and Putin's counterargument, moreover, occurred just days before another major event: the US-China summit in Anchorage on March 19, 2021, which took place in a harsh and tense environment.

According to Paolo Magri, vice-president of ISPI, the US has adopted a new approach by maintaining a tough stance against both China and Russia, its historical rivals. In turn, the tense relationship is pushing Russia to China's side as a result.

Who knows whether President Biden's words are really part of a strategy towards Russia; and whether the conciliatory attitude and the desire to improve Russo-American relations are not themselves part of a Putin administration's strategy as well. The only thing that we can do is stand by and watch...


Author: Greta Bordin

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