Politics Explained

Should we be worried about the dispute between Putin and Biden?

This sudden slide in Russian-American relations is difficult to judge, writes Sean O’Grady, but the early signs are not promising

Thursday 18 March 2021 23:58
Putin and the then US vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011
Putin and the then US vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011

Someone hit a nerve, then. When an ABC interviewer asked U.S. President Joe Biden whether he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “killer”, they could hardly have expected such an unequivocal and indeed undiplomatic response as: “I do”.

Neither did the Kremlin. So taken aback was the Russian leadership that they recalled their ambassador from Washington DC. Even in the very depths of the Cold War, during the long diplomatic tenure of Anatoly Dobrynin, such as step was left untaken, whatever provocations were coming from the Americans. During the Cuba crisis and all the way through wars in Korea and Vietnam, the ambassadors stayed in place.

Yet two words from Mr Biden seem sufficient to plunge relations into the deep freeze. It was a personal remark, and returned in kind. Mr Putin, obviously hurt, retorted:  “I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the courtyard we used to say: it takes one to know one. And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke.

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