Owen Matthews Owen Matthews

Putin and Biden need one another

Does Joe Biden think that Putin is a killer? asked ABC host George Stephanopoulos. ‘Mmm-hmm, I do,’ answered the President. Once, that would have been fighting talk. Today? Biden can insult Putin with impunity because he believes that Russia is, quite simply, no longer important or dangerous. Once a deadly serious enemy whose rivalry threatened to destroy life on the planet, Russia’s diminished status means that, these days, there’s little left to the grand old conflict except mere mudslinging.

‘We no longer think in Cold War terms, for several reasons. One, no one is our equal. No one is close,’ Biden told Ukrainian lawmakers in Kiev in 2014. ‘Other than being crazy enough to press a button, there is nothing that Putin can do militarily to fundamentally alter American interests.’

Russia and the United States are like an old divorced couple, still bickering 40 years after their stormy superpower marriage broke up. Russia is still dependent on her ex’s power and glamour to prove her continued status in the world. And many Americans still secretly love to have a reliable foreign baddie to blame when their democracy wobbles. The old thrill may be long gone, but both former partners still manage to kick up a few sparks from the old Cold War ashes. America’s insistence that Russia is interfering with her democracy and that her spies are everywhere gives Putin a wonderful domestic boost to his status as international evil genius and all-powerful spymaster. Arch-Russiagaters in the US get to write off Donald Trump’s election as a Kremlin plot rather than try to understand it as a popular revolt against the Washington establishment.

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have been taking potshots at each other for at least a decade. The last time Joe visited Vladimir in the Kremlin was back in 2011, when Biden was VP and Prime Minister Putin his counterpart, having temporarily swapped positions with Dmitry Medvedev.

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