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RSC Backgrounder: The Biden-Putin Summit

In his first six months in office, President Joe Biden has returned to the failed “reset” approach of U.S.-
Russia relations which characterized the Obama administration. In April, RSC Chairman Jim Banks
sent this memorandum to members highlighting President Biden’s dangerous pattern of concessions
to Vladimir Putin in contrast to former President Donald J. Trump’s tough policies. In the months
since, President Biden’s policy has become even worse, waiving sanctions on the Nordstream 2
pipeline, thereby ensuring its completion in a few months. Biden stood by idly as Russian backed
entities waged a campaign of cyber warfare against the United States including shutting down an oil
pipeline and disrupting U.S. commodity markets. The Biden administration has not met the statutory
deadline to impose sanctions on Russia under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and
Warfare Elimination (CBW) Act of 1991, it cancelled the Nuclear Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM-
N) program, and proposed a defense budget that did not keep up with inflation.1 Finally, and most
disturbingly, President Biden issued an Executive Order creating new authorities for Russia
sanctions which allowed the administration to bypass congressional review requirements found in
the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.2

In the run up to the summit, President Biden has attempted to escape criticism through tough talk to
cover his lack of action. While President Trump spoke softly but carried a big stick, President Biden
seems to be defined by the approach of “speak loudly, but carry a twig.” It is a fantasy to expect that
Putin would change his behavior without the imposition of significant costs on his regime. It is likely
that the Biden administration will make further concessions to Putin during the summit in the name
of cooperation on common interests. For example, the Biden administration has engaged in a
humiliating exercise of begging Putin not to veto the provision of U.S. taxpayer funded humanitarian
assistance to Syria at the UN Security Council through the UN’s cross border aid mechanism.
President Biden has said this is a key area where the U.S. could “work together” with Russia and
stated “I think I am going to try very hard” to convince Putin not to block the provision of the U.S.’s
own taxpayer funded aid to Syria (the President confused Syria with Libya during the quoted
remarks).3 Putin will likely seek concessions in the form of lifting some congressionally mandated
sanctions on the brutal Assad regime in Syria in return for allowing the United States to provide its
own humanitarian assistance to Syria.

Rather than returning to the policy of a “reset” and concessions, President Biden should have adopted
the approach of peace through strength when dealing with Putin. The following five policies would
impose real costs on Putin and his regime for their malign behavior:

• Sanction Nordstream 2 – President Biden should reverse his decision to waive sanctions
on Mathias Warnig, the CEO of the Nordstream 2 pipeline, and implement the bipartisan
congressionally mandated sanctions in the Protecting Europe's Energy Security Clarification
Act (PEESCA) as amended by the 2021 NDAA.
• Maintain Trump-era defense budgets. – A return to great power competition with Russia
requires robust and sustained defense funding especially the modernization of our nuclear
arsenal and the replacement of aging missile defense systems. The RSC budget proposal
would provide $778 billion in FY 2022 for national defense discretionary funding, a growth
rate of 3% over inflation from current enacted levels.
• Sanction the Navalny list. – Despite claiming to stand up for human rights in Russia,
President Biden lowered the bar yesterday by stating that U.S.-Russia relations would be
“hurt” were detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to die rather than calling for
his immediate release.4 Navalny ally Vladimir Ashurkov has published a list of Russian
officials implicated in significant corruption and human rights abuse which should be
subjected to U.S. sanctions. If the Biden administration wants to show that it is serious about
human rights it should use the authorities provided by Congress in the Global Magnitsky Act
to impose sanctions on the individuals on this list which meet the criteria for severe human
rights abuses or significant corruption.
• Beef up sanctions on Russia. – Sanctions on Russia have still not been utilized to their
fullest extent and new, more effective sanctions could severely compromise the resources
available to Putin’s regime to fund their malign behaviors. President Biden could start by
imposing the past due sanctions required in response to Russia’s chemical weapons attacks
pursuant to the CBW Act. President Biden should also expand sovereign debt sanctions on
Russia to include the secondary market, and sanction entities in Russia’s financial sector
including a Russian state-run development corporation, Vnesheconombank. Further, Biden
could seek to expel Russia from the international SWIFT financial communication system.
• Designate Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism. – Through its support of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Taliban, the Russian Imperial Movement, and its direct
cooperation with Hezbollah in Syria, Putin’s Russia is actively involved in repeatedly
providing support to State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Such a
designation will impose several penalties on the Putin regime including additional sanctions
and export control prohibitions.

In conclusion, tough words but weak actions towards Russia will only undermine U.S. interests and
embolden Russian malign activity. Instead, if President Biden is serious about countering Russia, he
should consider putting in place successful conservative policies with a record of keeping America

For more information and conservative views about the Putin-Biden summit, please see the RSC
National Security Strategy report, along with the following resources:

▪ Ilan Berman. Four Priorities For The Biden-Putin Summit Newsweek.

▪ Peter Rough and Tim Morrison. Biden & Russia: Time to Get Tough. The National Review.
▪ Matthew Zweig and Eric Lorber. Is Biden trying to avoid congressional review of Russia
sanctions? . The Hill.


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