By Nina Bachkatov
President Putin did not follow many world leaders, including Europeans, who rushed to congratulate American elected president Joe Biden. Russia, and China, have decided to play the legalist card, waiting for the publication of official results. Doing so, both countries wanted to profile themselves as international players who are a class in their own. Regularly accused of “managing” their elections and infringing human rights, they were in their view, contrary to the preachers of democracy, showing respect for voters’ choices.
Both countries knew that their argument will be the laughingstock of the West; not the knew too but that their attitudes will find the ears of countries where elections are, as a matter of fact, declared fair or fraudulent depending if the winner is “a friend” of the West or not.
They did not expect to be confronted with the postponement, perhaps for weeks, of the official results’ publication. In the meantime, elected president Biden started to work on his political programme, and on nominations for his administration or other key jobs. In other words, Russia and China have made themselves the hostage of Trump. Unless they find the required diplomatic subtilities to move on.
Their decision to wait for “official results” have been immediately seized by Western analysts as another proof that Beijing and Moscow were pro-Trump. Stories of champagne corks popping in the Russian Duma at the announcement of Trump’s victory have been circling for 4 years, and are resurfacing again, implying that the Kremlin was hoping then and now for Trump’s election. In fact, in 2016, the Russians saluted Trump’s victory because he was not Hillary Clinton, a state secretary they still see as the agitator-in-chief of the oppositions in Russia and other post-Soviet states.
But doubts about president Trump were raised quickly in Russia. Soon he was seen not only as an amateur, but a dangerous amateur. The first meetings came as a shock for Russian diplomats and ministers confronted with what they perceived as a lack of professionalism, lack of preparation, and lack of substance. Observers were so puzzled by Trump’s cut-and-dried declarations, and the avalanche of Tweets, that they wondered if there might have been there some form of elaborate indirect messages – before to conclude it was really an American president expressing himself without control or coordination.
Later on, Russians have been taken aback by the rotten relations developing between president Trump, professional and experts’ circles, inside the presidential administration, with the media and finally with close relatives. Even stranger, there was the open animosity between Trump and the intelligence services, whose members were feeding anti-Trump medias’ campaigns.
In those conditions, the Kremlin knew that any sign of American opening towards Russia shall be counterproductive because it can only be seized by the U.S. media and the Democrats as a further proof of the dubious links between president Trump and Moscow. And Trump did not prevent the Congress to vote new sanctions, and lead charges against Russians for everything un-American happening in the world.
Of course, Trump’s presidency had its bonus – discrediting America and the American model so forcefully, from inside, with an impact through the world, that the Russians, or the Chinese, would never have dreamed off.
In 2020, the Kremlin is bracing for a Biden presidency and has to find a convincing pretext for changing gear and acknowledging his electoral victory, even if the official results are coming later. It knows that time is playing against Russians if they do not recognise the elected president, because Biden is already consulting to form his future administration and fill key jobs. The old guard of Cold Warriors is out there, happy to undo what Trump did in international relations, notably concerning relations with Moscow.
Biden is not the Russian dream and he has already promised that Russia “will pay the price” for its past interferences and for any further adventures. But he is nor Trump, nor Hillary. The Kremlin ought to be pleased to work with a cohesive administration that offer them what they like above all: visibility and professionalism.
As a first step, the president spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, has declared that “Russia is ready to work with any president of the United States” and hopes that with “the next one” it will be possible “to enter in dialogue and find an agreement to normalise bilateral relations”.
The Kremlin expects the relations to be stormy, but they know too that President Biden will be a pragmatist, knowing that Russia is an indispensable partner for settling world issues, including those that matter for the American interests; that Russia is still the other nuclear power with the capacity to destroy the United States and, as such, will stay the key partner for international arms treaties; that Biden, with his international experience as vice-president under president Obama, knows that restoring multilateralism cannot be done only with friends and allies.