19th Apr 2021

EU drawn into US disputes with Russia and China

  • US president Joe Biden (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The EU press service has gotten drawn into a verbal punch-up between the Kremlin and White House by endorsing US president Joe Biden's assertion that his Russian counterpart was a "killer".

Biden had said so in a TV interview on Wednesday (17 March), referring to Russian president Vladimir Putin's assassinations of political opponents.

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And his language evoked an equally pungent response from Putin on Thursday.

"As far as statements by my US counterpart are concerned. What would I say to him in response? I would tell him: 'Be healthy!' I wish him good health," Putin said, in a comment that could be read as a jibe against the 78-year old Biden's advanced age.

"The US authorities in general seek certain relations with us but only in areas the US is interested in and on their own terms," Putin added.

"They think that we are just like them but we aren't. Our genetic, cultural, and moral codes are different. However, we know how to protect our interests," Putin also said.

And when asked by press about Biden's comments earlier on Thursday, an EU spokeswoman took the US side.

There was "sadly, a long list of failed and successful assassination attempts" of Russian regime opponents, her EU statement said.

The EU had already imposed sanctions on Russia over the poisonings of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy in the UK, and Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader, the spokeswoman said.

"As president of Russia ... Vladimir Putin ultimately has responsibility for the Russian authorities' policies and actions," she added.

Putin, for his part, also offered to meet Biden as soon as possible.

"I wouldn't put this off for too long. I want to go to the taiga on the weekend to get some rest, but we could do it tomorrow [Friday] or, let's say, on Monday," he told the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

The public positioning vis-a-vis Biden's new administration comes amid EU talk of "strategic autonomy" from its old dependence on US security and foreign policy.

France, for instance, is trying to build "strategic" relations with Russia, while Germany wants to complete a Russian gas pipeline, causing transatlantic tension.

And the EU recently signed an investment treaty with China, despite US concern on expansion of Chinese power.

EU foreign ministers are preparing to impose sanctions on Russian and Chinese officials over human rights next week.

But Biden's White House, on Thursday, also clashed heads with China on human rights in a way likely to force the EU to take sides as it did on Putin's "killer" credentials.

The US wanted to "discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies", secretary of state Antony Blinken said in an acerbic opening statement at a meeting with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Alaska.

"Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," Blinken said.

But for Wang, the US "abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China".

The US had no place lecturing him on human rights, because black Americans were being "slaughtered", Wang said.

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