A Look at What the Russian Media Think of Joe Biden
Bear in mind two things. First of all, many Russians recall the 1980s, when their country was ruled by decrepit, aging Politburo hacks, hastening the demise of the Soviet Union. Those same Russians also recall the 1990s, when the United States, it is felt, imposed a level of democracy and capitalism upon Russia that was ever lacking in America itself, leading to chaos and bankruptcy.
Russian journalists are not buying the Biden administration's party line. They do not trust American media coverage of Joe Biden. What they are reporting provides a very different — and, apparently, more perceptive — view of Biden than the breathless, glowing coverage provided by our own media.
The very first Russian impression of Joe Biden is that he is weak and cowardly. Biznes Online Gazeta covered the inauguration. The Russian correspondent found great amusement in the "unprecedented security measures" undertaken ahead of the inauguration, when "dozens of neighborhoods were fenced off, beyond which a person could not even carry a balloon or ride a bicycle, classified as potentially dangerous objects," as well as the fact that Biden took his oath of office "guarded by a military division of 25,000 troops in a cordoned-off Capitol." The reporter hinted that the absence of spectators was as much for security reasons as for the pandemic. Despite the 200,000 flags displayed in the street before the White House, "it looked gloomy in the ringing silence." The Russian journalist made a point of noting that Biden's wife Jill had to support Biden with both arms as he took his oath of office. In this connection, the Russian reminded his readers that, after all, "Biden waited for this day for 33 years." As to Biden's stirring proclamation, "It's America Day! This is a day of democracy, a day of history and hope," the Russian has his doubts, since "Biden was reading from a huge teleprompter a hundred meters away." Following his review of the troops and his visit to Arlington, the Russian journalist noted, "the Head of State who took office went to the White House, where he will live, if age does not interfere — the president is 78 — for the next four years." Russians also make much of the fact that Biden holed up inside during a recent snowfall because of "a white cover only 5 cm thick," seeing it as an additional sign of weakness.
Russian journalists are quick to point to evidence that Biden is not the sort of democratic leader one would expect from the world's leading democratic state. Russian news service Smotrim's press coverage of the inauguration includes the shameful "eviction of the National Guard fighters from the Capitol to an unheated parking lot," noting that the first lady's gesture to "personally express gratitude for their service" was to bring a single basket of chocolate cookies to the checkpoint — for 25,000 guardsmen. The article added that, cooped up together like that in unsanitary conditions, in return for their service, several hundred National Guardsmen have now tested positive for the coronavirus and are under quarantine. The Biznes Online story was headlined, "Biden: 'If you Disagree with me — so be it, this is Democracy, this is America" — which Russians see as a contradiction in terms. Putin's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, was astonished that Biden would so readily agree to an extension of START 3, a nuclear disarmament treaty, in the one phone call he made to Putin on January 26, noting with amusement that "unlike us, he has not included his legislature in this decision," implying that Biden cannot rely upon his Congress, which is why he continues to issue directives without congressional involvement — again, to Russians, a sign of weakness as well as an abandonment of democratic procedure. Putin, for his part, placed the decision of whether to extend START 3 before his Duma immediately after that phone call; the Duma voted to extend.
Sputnik radio host Mikhail Sheinkman began his February 5 broadcast as follows: "Thanks to the bad weather in Washington, we managed to understand what awaits us. Because even Phil the groundhog, though sleeping, was pulled out of his burrow on February 2. Biden came out of his only on the fourth. Therefore the 'winter' in relations with Russia will be long." Russians anticipate that Biden's presidency will be a repeat of their eight years under the unpredictable, hawkish President Obama. Quoted in Pravda, Chairman Leonid Slutsky of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs had this to say about Joe Biden's February 4 speech to the U.S. State Department: "Biden's promise to toughly confront Russia is nothing new. The new American president has repeated all the clichés and patterns of the Obama administration. In fact, the White House is continuing the line of the undeclared Cold War 2.0." Slutsky added, quoted in Ria Novosti, "This ultimatum-imperative tone is absolutely unacceptable to Russia. We will not allow anyone to tell us how to conduct our domestic and foreign policy." The Pravda reporter commented, "What has he promised our country? During the election campaign, when it came to Russia, he constantly promised to make it pay for everything."
Russian state Duma deputy Ruslan Balbek had this to say about the Biden speech: "Mr. Biden, you were very good at warming your pockets, the corrupt way, during Poroshenko's presidency [in Ukraine]. But this is no example, and your speech is not a decree. So go seal your wishes and threats in an envelope and let it go in the wind, since this will have the same effect upon the Russian Federation."
Lynn Corum is a translator of Russian who studies developments in the Russian press that affect America's national interests. She has been researching and writing on Putin's stated plans since 2009 and is a world expert on Project Russia, the Kremlin's published state ideology.