In the USA, all politics is about one country only: itself. The Rest of the World is only a stage setting, a tableau against which American politicians posture and mud wrestle with one another.
The latest and perhaps most serious manifestation of this indifference to the fall-out of domestic political rhetoric on the world beyond US borders was President Biden’s response yesterday to a journalist’s question as to whether he considered Vladimir Putin to be a “killer.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Biden said “yes.” He and the country at large may yet rue that pandering to his Democratic Party base and its Russophobe fantasies.
Our Western press did take note of that remark and looked for the Russian response, which was not long in coming. The first shoe to drop was the decision of the Kremlin to recall its Ambassador in Washington to Moscow for consultations on how to proceed with bilateral relations, which appeared to be headed for the rocks. After all, the “killer” comment was only the unscripted part of an interview during which the President said that Russia would soon be made to pay a price for alleged interference in the 2020 elections. All of this was duly picked up by our media.
The second shoe to drop was the direct response by President Putin to the words of Biden. In a meeting with citizens in the Crimea, where he was joining local celebrations of the seventh anniversary of Crimea’s re-joining the Russian Federation, Putin said calmly and directly about the designation as “a killer”: “It takes one to know one.” He went on to magnanimously wish the American president “good health,” adding, “without any sense of irony.”
This is as much as your average reader of The Guardian or other mainstream press would know about the public spat between the White House and the Kremlin that Biden initiated gratuitously. That average Western reader would not be likely to watch domestic Russian state television to see how this whole affair is being played to the Russian public. I do, and I use this opportunity to share with my readership what I saw there last night and today.
On one of the leading Russian political talk shows last night the subject was precisely the “killer” remark by Biden. And the panelists were not just some lightweight commentators who chatter night after night on sundry subjects. The panelist who was given the microphone most generously was none other than Petr Tolstoy, Deputy Chairman of the Russian State Duma and, since his election in 2020, Deputy Speaker in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg. Tolstoy denounced the Biden statement and discussed with the others how this would negatively impact on any chances for constructive joint work with the US administration in any domain whatsoever.
Today’s Russian news programs remain focused on the language used by Biden and what this means for future relations. Russian news agencies are quoting other world leaders who have condemned Biden’s remarks as inappropriate as applied to a head of state. The most prominent leader to speak out so far is Turkey’s president Erdogan, who backed up his “colleague” Vladimir.
Biden’s vilification of Putin is just the latest and most damaging in a string of insults that go back to his time as Vice President under Barack Obama. Back then Biden had dared to call Putin “a thug.” But he was only the Vice President and his boss, Barack, had also been pretty free in his personal attacks on the Russian leader, whom he described familiarly as behaving like a naughty boy at the back of the school room.
My point in closing is that this type of public insult directed against other world leaders is outrageous and demonstrates that Trump was not an aberration in his uncouth behavior towards Angela Merkel or Justin Trudeau, among others. Well-educated members of the US political class can be just as Ugly. In their false sense of security as “untouchables,” American politicians are tempting fate. A less reserved and decent boss in the Kremlin might take off the gloves.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021