US-Russia relations: Why Biden thinks Putin is in a ‘very difficult spot’ over China

Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden shake hands at Geneva summit

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Joe Biden met Vladimir Putin for the first time in his Presidency this week while attending talks in Geneva alongside other world leaders. The President and his Russian counterpart “spoke the same language” during three-hour long talks on Wednesday, according to Mr Putin. But Mr Biden acknowledged China had lodged Mr Putin in a “difficult spot” which may make him reconsider cooperation with the US.

US-Russian relations have oscillated over the last few years, with President Trump noticeably more friendly with Mr Putin.

When he met the Russian premier during the 2018 Helsinki summit, he refused to squeeze him on interfering in US domestic affairs.

He blamed “both countries” for interference in the 2016 elections and seemed to take Mr Putin’s side over the US intelligence community’s.

Mr Biden has broached US-Russian relations with a diplomatic focus while framing the country as a bit player threatened by China’s growing influence.

He addressed journalists before boarding Air Force One in Geneva yesterday and touched on the status of bilateral relations.

One journalist questioned why Russia would like to cooperate with the US, to which the US President replied with a critique of Russia’s global standing, stating neighbouring China is exerting pressure.

Mr Biden said: “Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now.”

“They are being squeezed by China. They want desperately to remain a major power.”

He added: “They desperately want to have — be relevant.”

According to experts, the change in tack from Mr Trump to Mr Biden forms part of a strategy that seeks to recast Russia as a fringe competitor on the geopolitical stage.

US politicians likely hope the pursuit will unsettle Mr Putin as he grapples with relations in his region.

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But experts have warned Mr Biden not to poke the Russian bear when they share a common concern.

China has enjoyed exponential political and economic growth in recent years, leading the Pentagon to dub the country a potential challenge to the international order.

The White House-based Interim National Security Strategic Guidance has categorised China as the “only” competitor capable of disrupting the system.

And Russia shares this concern, with officials allegedly eyeing with caution China’s influence on countries surrounding its immediate territory.

The growing cooperation between Russia and China, analysts state, is one of necessity.

Sanctions imposed by the US and European nations have firmed their economic relations, backing claims by Mr Biden that Mr Putin is seeking increased relevancy on a shrinking platform.

Russia and China have recently threatened to reignite the space race with a new level of cooperation.

They announced an upcoming partnership for future expeditions beyond the stratosphere, to the Moon and asteroids beyond.

The public partnership will push Russia closer to China and further away from smooth relations with the west.

Russia has threatened to pull out of its contract aboard the International Space Station by 2025 if US leadership does not cease sanctions.

The US and other western nations imposed penalties on the country following the Crimean annexation in 2014.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Roscosmos, told parliamentarians Moscow can’t complete spacecraft assemblage due to the sanctions’ financial tolls.

He said: “We have more than enough rockets but nothing to launch them with.

“We have spacecraft that are nearly assembled but they lack one specific microchip set that we have no way of purchasing because of the sanctions.”

Russia would not renew its contract with the ISS if the US did not release sanctions, a move that could push it closer to China once again.

Mr Rogozin added: “This is in the hands of our American partners.”

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