On August 20, 2020, Russian opposition figure and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent and was hospitalized in a serious condition. Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin of being responsible for his poisoning. This is only one instance of attempted assassination by the Russian State, allegedly carried out by the nation’s dirty works departments. There is no evidence, of course, that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was even aware of what his dirty trick departments are up to, or had been in the past. Yet all circumstantial evidence point to the reality that the most powerful individual in Russia, who has twisted the Constitution to perpetuate his hold on the country, must have been in the know of the goings on, yet did not do anything to stop an assault on his most vocal opponent. In fact, under Putin, Russia has been reduced to a mock democracy and a police state, with the Government coming down harshly on dissenters and nipping potential opposition to Putin in the bud. Thus when US President Joe Biden, when asked in an interview whether he thought Putin was a killer, had replied “I do”, he was not straying far from the truth. Throughout his long tenure in office, see-sawing between the posts of Prime Minister and President, Putin has shown himself to be a ruthless autocrat who brooks no opposition to his regime.
However, if Biden can be faulted for designating Putin to be a ‘killer’, it is because in doing so he has transgressed the norms of diplomacy and bluntly called a spade a spade, something not conducive to maintenance of workable relationships, even amongst traditional adversaries. Biden has an axe to grind against Putin: the US intelligence agencies in their latest report have conclusively asserted that Russia under direct orders from Putin had meddled in the recent US Presidential elections in an attempt to undermine Biden’s campaign and boost the prospects of Donald Trump. But, as a politician who has had a prolonged stint in various offices and is well versed with the requirements of diplomacy, it had been expected that the new American President would display greater finesse while commenting on the head of an adversarial country, particularly in the context of the cold war which had earlier prevailed between them and which had imperilled and destabilized the entire world order. It might also be salutary to note that the human rights records of past US administrations too have not been very commendable, and the number of assassinations and government-toppling carried out by agencies like the CIA have been well documented. Russian spokesmen have termed Biden’s remark as a sign that he does not want to normalize relationships with Russia, but significantly has maintained that Russia would still cooperate with the US when it suits Moscow’s interests.