Republicans Call Biden 'Soft' on Russia, Leaving Out Trump's Defense of Putin

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Politics|Republicans call Biden ‘soft’ on Russia, leaving out Trump’s defense of Putin.

Former President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin walked together at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in 2019.
Credit...Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Michael Crowley

  • June 15, 2021

Ahead of President Biden’s summit on Wednesday with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in an 18th-century villa, Republicans in Congress and conservative media outlets like Fox News have coalesced around a succinct line of attack: Mr. Biden is weak when it comes to dealing with the Russian leader.

Some of Mr. Biden’s most prominent critics, however, neglect to mention their backing of President Donald J. Trump as he spent four years seeking to befriend Mr. Putin, dismissing Russia’s aggressive behavior and complaining that a “Deep State” and other Washington actors were preventing him from striking deals with Moscow.

On Tuesday, shortly before Mr. Biden departed on Air Force One from Brussels for Geneva, where he will meet with Mr. Putin for the first time in more than a decade, the website of Fox News published an opinion essay by Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state under Mr. Trump, arguing that Mr. Biden “shows up with a self-dealt weak hand.”

The idea that Mr. Biden is no match for the Russian has been a regular theme on the network’s programming in recent weeks.

On his prime-time program Monday night, the Fox host Sean Hannity declared that Mr. Putin “will see firsthand how weak Joe is,” adding that “Putin loves a weak America and a weak American president.”

During the Trump years, both men — along with many other prominent conservatives — to varying degrees defended or excused Mr. Trump’s approach to Mr. Putin, whom U.S. intelligence concluded had ordered a campaign to interfere in the 2016 American election.

“We are the toughest administration ever on Russia,” Mr. Pompeo insisted during Senate testimony last July, citing sanctions that were imposed on Moscow, often with Mr. Trump’s grudging approval at best.

In recent weeks, many other Republicans, not all of whom defended Mr. Trump’s approach, have charged that Mr. Biden has been soft on Russia. Many have cited Mr. Biden’s decision last month to waive Congressional sanctions on the Russian company behind the Nord Stream 2 oil and gas pipeline and the company’s German chief executive.

Opponents of the pipeline say that it gives Mr. Putin needed new revenues and dangerous control over Europe’s energy supplies. Mr. Biden had opposed the pipeline, but in the end gave in to the arguments of supporters, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who contend that the risks are overblown.

The pipeline, mostly built during the Trump era, was about 95 percent complete by the time Mr. Biden took office, and it was unclear whether he could have stopped it even if he tried. In explaining his decision, Mr. Biden said that imposing the sanctions would be “counterproductive in terms of our European relations.”

“We’re rewarding Putin with a summit? Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we’re giving him his treasured Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimizing his actions with a summit,” Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said in a May 25 statement. Mr. Sasse was a harsh critic of Mr. Trump.

But his critique reflected wide sentiment within the Republican Party and among allies of Mr. Trump.

“Biden is weak. Putin knows it,” Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, tweeted on June 2.

The White House rejects the notion that the meeting with Mr. Putin amounts to a concession, and privately officials say the problem with Mr. Trump’s meetings with the Russian leader was not that they took place but what they said was Mr. Trump’s obsequious approach.

In a briefing this month, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that Mr. Biden “is never one to hold back on areas where he has concern, areas where he feels the actions of the Russian government or Russian leadership are hurting the United States. And he certainly has no intention of holding back during this meeting, publicly or privately.”

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