First, there is this word that clicks like a blow from Makarov: “killer”. If it is pronounced by the journalist who questions him about Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden’s answer is unequivocal. Yes, in his eyes, the master of the Kremlin is indeed a “killer”.
On the form, the words of the President of the United States are strangely reminiscent of those of his predecessor. Certainly, Donald Trump would never have spoken of his Russian counterpart in this way. But he had, for example, not hesitated to qualify Kim Jong-un of “little rocket man” while the anathemas flew, for lack of missiles, between Pyongyang and Washington.
The formal observation is therefore that of international relations where, even in the absence of Donald Trump, showing the muscles between leaders has become the rule rather than the exception. Is this really desirable for a man who intends to embody a democracy sure of itself and its values? For a head of state who seeks to project the image of a found quiet force? It is permissible to doubt it.
Then there is the bottom line. In this regard, Joe Biden is of course at odds with his predecessor. Facing Moscow, he claims to be on the line followed by Barack Obama who, after an attempt to “reset” sketched out in Geneva, had quickly observed irremediable lines of fracture.
China, the only strategic rival
However, the most annoying for the Kremlin is not so much the use of this or that qualifier for the Russian president, nor the frontal opposition promised him by Joe Biden. The insult, the real one, is what all this says about the vision we have of Russia in Washington. If the tenant of the White House qualifies Vladimir Poutine of “killer”, he limits himself to saying of Xi Jinping that he does not have “not an ounce of democracy in his body”. This difference in the register used – personal attack against political observation – reminds us that the United States sees only one strategic rival: China.
Barack Obama himself denied Russia this status as an equal interlocutor. In 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea, he deplored the actions of a “regional power which threatens its immediate neighbors, not by force but by weakness”. To relegate the Russians to this secondary status in this way was, in the eyes of many of them, the supreme insult. And that’s what Joe Biden just reminded them of.