Dual Crises: Putin, Biden, Navalny, and Russia-US Relations in 2021

As Joe Biden took the Presidential office on January 20th, 2021, he faced a domestic crisis with uniquely international implications. The siege of the US Capitol Building was widely agreed by world leaders to be a backsliding of democracy. To some, it was a concerning sign of an ally in crisis. For others, such as the Russian Federation, it was a further example of long-held claims that democratic systems of governance are outdated and leave states vulnerable to chaos. The Foreign Ministry of Russia stated that it was clear from the siege that the “U.S. electoral process is archaic, does not meet modern standards and is prone to violations” (The Moscow times).

The siege was an American crisis of American origin, but it will heavily undermine any of Joe Biden’s foreign policy efforts to pressure Putin’s government. This is especially clear as Russia experiences an early 2021 domestic crisis of its own as protests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s arrest sweep the nation, from capital city Moscow to far eastern Vladivostok. These dual crises represent the ironies and difficulties that US-Russian bilateral relations have faced for many years: as the United States tries to pressure Putin’s government and criticize its actions of annexation, suppression, and extra-legal assassinations and detentions, US actions like supporting eastern-European Color Revolutions, bolstering NATO’s military strength, and recently, failing to have a completely peaceful transfer of power, undermine the US’s position of credibility to promote democracy and sovereignty.

It remains to be seen what actions President Biden will take in response to Navalny’s arrest, although his State Department’s spokesperson recently released a statement of condemnation calling for his release. Biden’s response will have an immense impact on the bilateral relationship, but no matter what actions he decides to take, it is unlikely the United States and Russia will become closer over the next four years.

Historically, the Biden-Putin relationship has been devoid of warm feelings. As The Moscow Times author and Russian foreign policy expert Vladimir Frolov writes, “a new [US] administration is usually greeted in Moscow with hopes for a fresh start,”(Sauer) however, these two leaders have consistently clashed with one another, notably, when in 2011 Biden told Putin he should not return to the presidency and that he “[didn’t] have a soul” (John).

As tensions between Russia and the United States rise, both due to a new administration in the US and another Russian controversy, the differences between the two nations are easy to see. What requires a deeper look to reveal, though, are the similarities. Both the United States and the Russian Federation have recently had domestic divides over policy issues that have culminated in violence. Both nations have had recent controversies with police brutality, with protests for racial justice in the US being met with police violence, and, today, police violence against demonstrators at Navalny protests.

Given these similarities, and considering large areas of overlapping concern: the New START treaty, nuclear non-proliferation, Arctic region geopolitics, and conflicts in the Middle East, it will be important to see how the US-Russia relationship develops under President Biden.

The question of seeking better relations with a nation whose government embodies so much of what the United State’s identity stands so fundamentally against is a difficult one; amongst two nations sharing dual crises, despite overwhelming differences and perhaps using select overlapping interests as a starting point, one can be hopeful that, in the end, cooperation will prevail over competition.

John, Arit. “Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy Strategy Includes Telling Putin He Has No Soul.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 21 July 2014, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/joe-bidens-foreign-policy-strategy-includes-telling-putin-he-has-no-soul/374741/.

(Photo) Reuters. Protester and Police Officer Clash at Navalny Protest. 2021, www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55783944. Accessed 2021.

Sauer, Pjotr. Foreign Policy Experts Map Russia’s Plans for 2021. 10 Jan. 2021, www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/01/04/foreign-policy-experts-map-russias-plans-for-2021-a72365.

The Moscow Times. “Putin Silent on Washington Unrest as Russian Foreign Ministry Calls U.S. Electoral System Archaic.” The Moscow Times, The Moscow Times, 24 Jan. 2021, www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/01/07/putin-silent-on-washington-unrest-as-russian-foreign-ministry-calls-us-electoral-system-archaic-a72549.

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I am a high school student in the United States with research interests in International Relations.

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Robert Hansell

Robert Hansell

I am a high school student in the United States with research interests in International Relations.

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