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Feb 15, 2024, 4:31pm EST
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Did Putin just endorse Joe Biden?

Insights from the BBC, Izvestia, and Proekt

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Sputnik/Alexander Kazakov/Pool via REUTERS
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The News

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday appeared to signal that he would prefer a Biden presidency over a Trump one.

When asked in an interview with Russian state television who would be the better choice for Russia, Putin said that President Joe Biden is “more experienced, he’s predictable, he’s an old-style politician,” in video footage released by the Kremlin. However, he added that Russia would work with any president Americans elect this fall.

While many are shocked at Putin’s apparent reversal — after he backed former President Donald Trump in the 2016 election — his comments may be a political ploy intended to help Trump.

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Putin doesn’t want the US public to think he’s too close to Trump

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Source:  
BBC

Putin’s decision to back Biden was likely a carefully calculated tactic, according to the BBC’s Russia Editor Steve Rosenberg. Saying he would prefer a Trump presidency would have been “a gift for the Biden campaign,” he wrote, and Trump’s political enemies would have immediately “pounced on such an endorsement” to reinforce years-long accusations of Trump colluding with the Kremlin. But Trump won’t be able to escape questions about Putin and Russia if he becomes the Republican nominee, and his team will use Putin’s apparent endorsement of Biden to “deflect the inevitable accusations that [he] is the Kremlin’s choice,” Rosenberg explained. Trump has already taken advantage of Putin’s comments, telling supporters at a rally on Wednesday that “Putin is not a fan of mine.”

Moscow might want a US leader seen as weak

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Sources:  
Izvestia, PBS Frontline, Foreign Affairs

“Biden is a weak president for a country that is Russia’s main adversary,” a researcher at Moscow State Institute of International Relations told Izvestia, one of Russia’s largest newspapers. In Putin’s eyes, Biden has failed to win over overwhelming support of the American public, whose political divisions were laid bare by the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, New Yorker writer Evan Osnos said in a documentary made by PBS’ Frontline. Putin made a calculation that Biden “would not be able to lead an international group of countries to support Ukraine,” and that “even if [support] was there in the beginning, it would not continue,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told Frontline. European “war fatigue” is only growing, according to Foreign Affairs: recent public opinion polls show a significant drop in EU-wide support for Kyiv, and several right-wing parties who want their countries to reduce support for Ukraine are expected to dominate upcoming elections, the magazine reported.

Putin dismisses Biden’s age, but rumors about his own health are widespread

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Sources:  
Proekt, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

Putin — who at 71 is a decade younger than Biden — appeared to dismiss concerns about Biden’s age and mental fitness in the television interview, saying that he “didn’t see anything like [incompetency]” when the two last met in Geneva in 2021. Putin himself has for years been in the spotlight for reportedly frail health, although despite widespread rumors, U.S. intelligence communities say there is no evidence he is ill. Renowned Russian investigative site Proekt reported in 2022 that a thyroid cancer specialist regularly accompanies him during trips. “Sometimes he doesn’t look very good,” political analyst Andrey Kolesnikov told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He pointed to rumors of “a very serious split in the elites”, many of whom are dissatisfied with Putin’s leadership, adding that speculation about the strongman president’s health should be treated with skepticism.

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