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Could Aggressive US Rhetoric Against Russia Be the Result of Biden's Poor Standing at Home?

© REUTERS / SPUTNIKU.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin meet for the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland  - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.12.2021
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During the recent video call with Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden made no commitments or concessions on Ukraine's membership in NATO or the US military presence in the country. Nevertheless, Russia's "red lines" remain a focal point of regional and international security, argue American observers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden held a secure video call that lasted for two hours on Tuesday. Following the conversation, the American mainstream press has largely focused on Joe Biden warning Moscow about "strong economic and other measures" in case of an "invasion" of Ukraine. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied groundless reports about its alleged "plans" to "invade" its Eastern European neighbor.
The Russian president warned Biden against shifting the whole responsibility to Moscow. Putin highlighted that it was NATO "that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory, and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border" and emphasised the necessity of legally binding guarantees preventing NATO’s eastward expansion.

'Russia's Red Lines are Important'

"Russia's red lines and Russia's security are important," says Peter Kuznick, professor of history at American University and co-author of the Untold History of the United States. "And they're certainly important to Putin, and they're important to those of us internationally who don't want to see a military confrontation because we understand that if there is a military confrontation over Ukraine, just like if there's a military confrontation over Taiwan, the Russians are going to win over Ukraine and the Chinese are going to win over Taiwan."

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has made it clear that it doesn't respect Russia's "red lines," Kuznick notes, denouncing this approach as "very stupid" and "narrow-minded." The US and NATO are continuing to provide defensive and lethal weapons to Ukraine, neglecting Russia's arguments, the professor says.
He cites the Kremlin's concerns about the potential deployment of NATO's missile and hypersonic systems which could reach Moscow within minutes. The provocative US-NATO naval drills in the Black Sea and aerial exercises of US strategic bombers 12 miles from Russia's borders are triggering reasonable anxiety in Moscow, according to the academic.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, left, and U.S. President George Bush signing bilateral documents during Gorbachev's official visit to the United States - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.05.2021
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Furthermore, Vladimir Putin's point about ironclad and legally binding guarantees preventing NATO’s eastward expansion has clear historic precedent, Kuznick highlights.

"Back in 1990, George H. W. Bush and Baker and the Germans promised Gorbachev that if he allowed the unification of Germany, then NATO would not expand one inch to the east," the professor recalled. "[Then Moscow has] seen NATO expand 13 countries to the east, right near Russia's doorstep, so Russia understands that the West cannot be trusted with some kind of verbal guarantee right now because once Gorbachev did not get that in writing, we see how dangerous that became."

Putin was watching what happened to Gorbachev, what happened to Russia, and he does not trust the West in this regard, the academic stresses. While the professor deems that Ukraine's NATO membership is off the books at the present, he cites dangerous preliminary steps to begin this process, including the deliveries of weapons, construction of military bases and joint military drills.
The other danger that worries Kuznick is war-mongering elements within the Ukrainian leadership as well as nationalist militias "who are itching for a fight." "So we need to calm things down, tamp down the tensions and get back to talking," the professor says, suggesting that the Putin-Biden meeting was "a good first step." "Let's hope that it leads to something more consequential," he remarks.
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomes Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (not pictured) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 18, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 18.11.2021
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Biden Under Pressure from GOP & Dems

It's hardly surprising that the leitmotif of the Western coverage of the Putin-Biden video call is potential sanctions against Moscow, according to Nicolai Petro, professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, specializing in Ukraine and Russia.
"America's short-term ambition is to bolster Biden’s sagging ratings by portraying him as the 'Putin tamer'," says Petro. "Its long-term ambition is to preserve American hegemony in the West for as long as possible."
Biden's approval ratings are plummeting: according to the latest Economist/YouGov poll, the president's approval rating is hovering around 39% while his disapproval rating stands at 52%.
"Biden is under a lot of pressure right now to show how strong he is in the aftermath of Afghanistan," echoes Kuznick.
The professor of history cites Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, who said after the president's video call that Biden's weak global leadership, the Afghanistan disaster, the failure at the US border has emboldened America's rivals and shaken its allies’ trust.
"What we see is a strong attack on Biden for being weak from the Republicans and a mixed response from the Democrats, some of whom are also putting pressure on Biden to show how tough he is," Kuznick says. "Complicating it further is Biden's personal relation to Ukraine. Biden was the Obama administration's point man on Ukraine. He has very close relations there. He was instrumental in US policy during the Obama administration."
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