1. Antony Blinken, Nominee for U.S. Secretary of State ((Biden’s former National Security Adviser and Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration)
  2. William Burns, Nominee for Director of the CIA (Former Deputy Secretary of State and U.S. ambassador to Russia  
  3. Victoria Nuland, Nominee for Deputy Secretary of State for Political Affairs
  4. Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Nominee for Senior Director for Russia and Central Asia in the future National Security Council
  5. Kathleen Hicks, Nominee for Deputy Head of the Pentagon
  6. Shanthi Kalathil, Coordinator for Human rights and Democracy. 

Antony Blinken, views Russia's conduct as aggressive and erratic. He wants to hold Russia accountable for dangerous actions like sending troops to Ukraine and supporting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

Most members of Biden's Cabinet are political veterans, many of whom previously served in Barack Obama's administration. They, like Biden, have experience in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Washington refuses to accept a world divided into spheres of influence, as it did during the Cold War. The US, therefore, wants Russia to steer clear of Belarusian politics. Washington, similarly, wants Russia to accept the country of Georgia as a possible NATO member. Wherever it can, the US will push against Moscow's influence.

Biden’s future policy toward Russia suggests that that policy will be to better coordinate the Russia-related activities of U.S government agencies; mount a cyber offensive against Russia; consolidate U.S. alliances and partnerships; put pressure on Russia and make it pay a very heavy price for its misdeeds; but also structure the conflict not as one between the United States and Russia, but as between the Russian kleptocracy and oligarchy on the one hand, and the Russian people on the other, with America supporting Russia’s “underground civil society.”

Exposing Russian official corruption through leaks, while naming and shaming the perpetrators and discrediting the Kremlin in the eyes of ordinary Russians is the main tool of this approach.

Besides extending the frontline of the U.S.-Russian confrontation to include democracy and human rights, Biden can also be counted on to take on Russia more boldly in the former Soviet Union, from Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova to the South Caucasus and Central Asia.  

Biden will seek a more coordinated Russia policy within the NATO alliance. Out of willingness to heal the rift between Washington and Berlin caused by Trump’s disruptive behavior, Biden might let the Germans decide for themselves the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. However, his own concerns about Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, plus the growing opposition in the U.S. Congress to any Russian energy projects in Europe might make him continue Trump’s pressure on Germany to cancel Nord Stream 2. 

Another follow-up from the forty-fifth president could be the development and ultimately deployment in Europe of U.S. intermediate-range missile systems that would target Russian command centers and strategic assets at very close range. Biden supports arms control, including the extension of the New START Treaty negotiated by the Obama Administration, but he favors arms negotiations from strength. Looking ahead, the prospect of U.S. INF deployments minutes away from Moscow could be one element of that position. Strategic stability talks with Russia, if they begin on Biden’s watch, will be as tough as any in history.

Closing ranks with Europe could be accompanied in Biden’s foreign policy by a mini-détente with China for which Beijing is also keen. Both developments would step up the geopolitical pressure on Russia, which would see its foreign policy options shrink even further. For the Biden White House, everything will be part of a strategy. Russia will not be central to it, but neither will it be absent. The ultimate goal appears to be to undermine Putin’s nationalism, destroy Russia’s near-alliance with China, and return the country to the position of an adjunct to the West.

Rather than how he is portrayed in the Russian media — in short, as an infirm figurehead — Joe Biden is a seasoned foreign policy professional, a strategic thinker, and a ruthless player. He will be flanked and assisted by a group of ambitious, sophisticated, and energetic aides eager to leave their mark on American foreign policy—and the world. Biden’s term will overlap with the rest of Putin’s current one. It will be during that time that Putin has to make his fateful decision about the 2024 elections, and a lot will happen between now and then.

With Biden there will be no personal chemistry with Putin. In recent years Biden has said many unflattering things about Russia and its leader. Biden has never concealed his negative attitude toward Putin. In 2018 Biden published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine called “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin. Defending Democracy Against Its Enemies,” in which he called for a tightening of sanctions against Russia, a buildup of NATO military power, the active promotion of democracy, the defense of the right of sovereign states to “choose their defensive alliances” and the refusal to recognize that any power has a “sphere of interests.”

In person, Biden can be extremely tough when necessary. In addition, he is always “on top of the material” and prepares carefully for every meeting. With an extensive experience of diplomatic contacts at the highest level and a powerful foreign policy team, Biden is the best-prepared man to govern the country since George Bush Sr.

Where disarmament is concerned, Biden has a lot of highly qualified personnel with extensive experience of negotiation with Russia: Rose Gottemoeller (the architect of the START treaty), Jon Wolfsthal (Former Director for Nonproliferation at the National Security Council), Tom Countryman (Former Assistant Secretary of State) and others. The extension of the START treaty for another five years alongside a simultaneous continuation of dialogue on the future parameters of strategic stability is at present the only quick result that can be achieved between Moscow and Washington under Biden. 

Unlike Trump’s Republicans, Biden’s Democrats are ready to extend START without any preconditions (the treaty expires on February 4, 2021). The problem is solvable (the sides can agree on an interim compliance regime for START until a decision on extension enters force).

Other agreements on arms control, including in a multilateral format, look unachievable for now, since even in the best-case scenario Biden will not have the two-thirds of votes in the Senate that are required for ratification. 

Whether the White House will go along with the implementation of a Russian initiative on a mutual moratorium on the deployment in Europe of intermediate and shorter-range missiles, including the Russian land-based 9М729 cruise missile (which the U.S. sees as “a violation of the INF Treaty”), is hard to say for now, all the more so since recent decisions by the U.S. military on the purchase of such weapons (Mid Range Capability) leave little chance for agreement.

The main geopolitical challenge for the U.S. is the global confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy, the “free and unfree world.” The Biden team no longer speaks  of the “liberal world order,” which requires American hegemony in order to support the rules, but speaks of the “free world,” which the U.S. and its allies are obliged to defend from the growing autocracies, led by China and Russia.

The emphasis here is on the protection of the existing “free world,” primarily through internal consolidation and socio-economic modernization, rather than the liberation of the “unfree world,” which must be contained. 

This is no restoration of the foreign policy of Obama, but a reinterpretation of it amid the realities of a world that has changed dramatically since 2012. Biden speaks of the infeasibility of using U.S. military power for regime change in “liberating” “unfree countries,” but permits such use of force in the name of “humanitarian interventions” (as in Libya) to stop violence or in the case of the use of chemical weapons against a civilian population (Syria). 

While Washington may have formally renounced “regime change” as a policy, it continues to bet on the supply of non-military aid to opposition movements (Venezuela), the fight for human rights and a government accountable to the people (which for Moscow is tantamount to intervention with the aim of regime change).

Moscow cannot fail to be concerned by the restoration of transatlantic unity between the U.S. and the EU and the strengthening of foreign-policy coordination in relation to Russia. Under Biden the U.S. will take greater account of European opinions on key questions of global politics and will devote more attention to Europe’s preoccupation with the regional crises on its peripheries (Ukraine, Syria, Libya). We will also see more coordinated action on China and its expansion in Eurasia, as well as a joining of efforts by the U.S. and Europe in countering the growing power of the geopolitical rivals of the West.

And in Europe we will see a strengthening of the position of the Euro-Atlanticists, who are ready to stand shoulder to shoulder (including militarily) with the new American internationalism.

All this is not only a blow to the Kremlin’s main foreign-policy narrative of the imminent decline of the West and the coming multipolar “era of mercy,” but also seriously limits Moscow’s room for maneuver in terms of reducing Western pressure on Russia, reducing the incentive for Europe to reach a “separate peace” with Moscow. 

The prospect of a new geopolitical reality under Biden is even giving birth to conversations in Russia’s foreign policy elite about the expediency of a new “Brest-Litovsk” peace deal.

It is unlikely that Biden will begin his chapter in Russo-American relations with a new round of sanctions, though the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, where the OPCW has confirmed the use of chemical weapons, leaves the administration with little choice according to the law of 1991, but the possibilities there are limited. The Democrat administration will carry out a reassessment of the effectiveness of sanctions and their role in strategy regarding Russia. In reality, Biden needs merely to use the pressure of the imposing arsenal of sanctions that has already been approved by U.S. Congress. But a significant part of his foreign policy team believe that sanctions need to be reconfigured in such a way so that they do not only “punish” Russia for acts already committed, but also act as a means of curbing new unfriendly moves. For example, Biden’s influential adviser Jack Sullivan announced to Congress back in 2017 that a raft of sanction measures must be approved, including against Russian state-owned banks and companies, which would  automatically be introduced if Russia commits “unfriendly actions.”

The problem for Moscow is not so much the deterioration of relations under Biden (they couldn’t really get any worse): it is the readiness of the new administration to minimize these relations, relegating them to topics of secondary or tertiary importance.

Since 2014 Moscow has invested significant efforts in order to show that it is dangerous to ignore it and declare it “a regional power in decline,” as Biden has declared, repeating Barack Obama. As a result, the influence and significance of Russia for the U.S. now depends directly on the scale and acuteness of the problems that Moscow is capable of causing for Washington around the world — which will then trigger the American "containment and response" mechanism, including sanctions. The circle is closing.

Perhaps the way out is, as former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggests, to take a fresh look at Russian approaches to the U.S. and align Russia’s policy goals with America’s, reducing the costs and risks of excessive competition and allowing Russia to channel its main resources toward solving internal problems.


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