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Putin Acknowledges Biden's Win More Than A Month After The Election

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This is the week that Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election. For those keeping track, it's been a full month. Now, Biden and Putin have a history. And during the campaign, Biden called Russia, quote, "the biggest threat to America." NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: As news broke last month that Joe Biden had won enough states to be declared president-elect, congratulations poured in from world leaders. But President Putin was conspicuously absent and waited for Monday's Electoral College vote before congratulating the next U.S. president.

KONSTANTIN EGGERT: I think it's classic Putin. With him, who blinks first is always the main test.

KIM: That's Konstantin Eggert (ph), a Russian political commentator.

EGGERT: By not congratulating Biden for so long, he - in his eyes, at least - proved that he's tough; he's strong. And if need be, he's ready to take the fight all the way to Washington.

KIM: Biden and Putin know each other from when Biden was Barack Obama's vice president. During a visit to Moscow in 2011, Biden said it would be bad for Russia if Putin ran for a third term.

EGGERT: I don't think that there will be a lot of friendliness between the two men, but pragmatic deal making is completely possible.

KIM: Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky says the Kremlin views the Biden administration as a continuation of the Obama presidency.

STANISLAV BELKOVSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He says the main lesson Putin learned from Donald Trump's presidency is that even good personal relations between the two leaders could not stop bilateral ties from going into a nosedive.

BELKOVSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Belkovsky says all that counts now is the intersection of Russian and American national interests. One of those points of intersection is arms control. The New START Treaty, the last agreement limiting U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, expires in February.

ANGELA STENT: I think the No. 1 priority has to be the extension of New START.

KIM: Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University, says other priorities in the relationship are climate change and the future of sanctions.

STENT: Another priority, clearly, for the Biden administration will be democracy promotion and human rights and global kleptocracy. And these are issues where the relationship with Russia could well deteriorate.

KIM: Konstantin Eggert says Antony Blinken, Biden's pick for secretary of state, will likely challenge his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

EGGERT: Maybe he will be quite an unpleasant interlocutor for Lavrov, which may not be bad because the Russian (unintelligible) only respects force and strength.

KIM: But if Blinken represents Biden's strength toward Russia, the president-elect's son Hunter could become a liability. Hunter Biden is under a federal tax investigation. He also sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while Joe Biden was Obama's point man on Ukraine.

EGGERT: Putin will use his online trolls and disinformation to use this story to weaken Biden. But on the other hand, if he feels that the current administration is prepared to talk to him, I think he will not overstep a certain limit.

KIM: Stanislav Belkovsky says Putin is probably very happy with the result of the 2020 election.

BELKOVSKY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: The reason, he says, is the political theater that has discredited American democracy in the eyes of the world.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.