Joe Biden’s strategy for taking on ‘killer’ Putin

Moscow erupts after US president says Russia will ‘pay’ for election meddling

Vladimir Putin at a military parade in Moscow in 2020
(Image credit: Ramil Sitdikov/Host Photo Agency via Getty Images)

Russia has recalled its US ambassador after Joe Biden labelled Vladimir Putin a “killer” and warned that he will “pay a price” for interfering in the 2020 US election.

The Russian foreign ministry “unleashed a storm of derision” at Biden following the comments, The New York Times (NYT) reports, with Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, accusing the US president of “not want[ing] to improve relations with our country”.

Biden attacked the Russian president following the release of a US intelligence report concluding that Putin “probably directed” an effort to help Donald Trump win re-election and “denigrate” Biden and his family, The Times reports. Asked during an appearance on ABC News whether he thought the Russian president was a killer, he replied: “I do.”

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Russian bear

Despite Biden’s “long-running criticism” of Putin, some experts “had voiced hope that the Kremlin could forge a productive working relationship with the White House on areas of common interest”, the NYT says.

Biden did tell ABC News that he would work with Russia “where it’s in our mutual interest to work together”. However, officials in Moscow responded to the president’s comments by “dismissing the possibility of any cooperation”, the paper adds.

After the president last week began laying the groundwork for his Middle Eastern policy, how he would approach Russia was still an open question.

Donald Trump often “played down concerns about Russia” while maintaining that “China was by far the greatest threat to the US”, The Times says. But Biden has signalled that “he will pursue an aggressive foreign policy” against both, “sanctioning officials” ahead of the first talks under his administration, The Telegraph adds.

Tensions have escalated between the US and its old Cold War enemy in recent months following the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. And those relations have been further soured by the US intelligence report that states that Russia spread “misleading or unsubstantiated allegations” against Biden during the 2020 election.

However, a stronger line towards Putin could serve the president well at home. “Congressional Republicans quietly grumbled for four years” about Trump’s “passive rhetoric” towards Russia, Politico says, adding that Biden’s “aggressive public posture” is “begrudgingly refreshing” to many GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“Clearly, Putin is a malign force in the world. He is a terrible leader,” Senator Roy Blunt, a senior Republican and member of the Intelligence Committee, told the news site. “He is thuggish in his behaviour. And I’m glad we’re pushing back.”

The tough approach has done nothing to endear Biden to officials in Moscow, with Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, describing it as a “watershed moment” in a Facebook post.

“Any expectations for the new US administration’s new policy toward Russia have been written off by this boorish statement,” Kosachev said, adding that Russia would respond further “if explanations and apologies do not follow from the American side”.

But the “shift is a welcome development” among US lawmakers, Politico reports, who have embraced Biden’s efforts to move on from the “scandals and investigations about Trump’s relationship with Moscow” that “consumed” his presidency.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.