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Putin won’t congratulate Biden until legal challenges subside, Kremlin says

Russian holdout allows delay in addressing fraught question of how to improve ties; leaders of China, Brazil, Mexico and Turkey also yet to wish the US president-elect well

In this March 10, 2011, file photo, US Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
In this March 10, 2011, file photo, US Vice President Joe Biden, left, shakes hands with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t congratulate US President-elect Joe Biden until legal challenges to the US election are resolved and the result is official, the Kremlin announced Monday.

Putin is one of a handful of world leaders who have not commented on Biden’s victory, which was called by major news organizations on Saturday. But US President Donald Trump’s team has promised legal action in the coming days and refused to concede his loss while alleging large-scale voter fraud, so far without proof.

When Trump won in 2016, Putin was prompt in offering congratulations — but Trump’s challenger in that election, Hillary Clinton, also conceded the day after the vote.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that this year is different.

“Obviously, you can see that certain legal procedures are coming there, which were announced by the incumbent president — therefore this situation is different, so we consider it correct to wait for the official announcement,” he said.

The leaders of China, Brazil and Turkey also are holdouts in offering congratulations. And Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also said he would wait to comment until the legal challenges were resolved.

In this July 7, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. (AP/Evan Vucci, File)

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin offered a similar explanation of why President Xi Jinping has stayed silent.

“We understand the presidential election result will be determined following US laws and procedures,” he said.

Peskov suggested that when the time comes, a congratulatory message from Putin would come with all the expected protocol.

“I remind you that Vladimir Putin said more than once that he will respect any choice of American people, and will be ready to work with any chosen president of the United States,” he said.

For now, Putin’s holding back allows a delay in addressing that fraught question of how to improve relations. Although Russian politicians widely lauded Trump’s election in 2016, expecting him to make good on his promises of improving ties, his administration disappointed Moscow by enacting sanctions, expelling scores of Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, and authorizing lethal weapons sales to Ukraine.

But Russia is characteristically wary of Democratic US administrations because they tend to be more forward about criticizing Russia on human rights and democracy issues.

Biden, in a 2011 trip to Russia as vice president, epitomized that approach in a speech at Moscow Statue University, the country’s most prestigious higher education institution.

“Don’t compromise on the basic elements of democracy. You need not make that Faustian bargain,” he told students.

Biden also is tainted in Russia’s eyes by having been the Obama administration’s point-man in Ukraine after the uprising that drove the country’s Kremlin-friendly president from power in 2014. Russia contended that those protests were fomented by the United States.

In this March 10, 2011, file photo, Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, listens to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia. (AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Russian officials frequently blamed the difficulties of Moscow-Washington relations during the Trump administration on alleged “Russophobia” carried over from the Obama years. Some politicians expect that could increase under Biden.

“With the victory of a Democrat, one can expect revenge from all nonconservative forces around the world. This means more Russophobia in Europe, more deaths in (eastern Ukraine) and in many other hot spots of the world, as well as more politically motivated sanctions, if we talk about the direct and simplest consequences,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, whose views generally parallel the Kremlin’s.

“The Biden administration may return to a much more assertive policy in the post-Soviet space, which is always extremely unnerving for Moscow,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia In Global Affairs journal, told the state news agency Tass.

Both, however, noted that a Biden administration is likely to be more amenable to international cooperation, especially in arms control such as renewing the New START treaty between Russia and the US that is to expire next year.

Kosachev also suggested that Biden’s election would largely eliminate complaints about Russian election interference, thereby smoothing the way for armaments agreements.

“Not that we believe Washington will be sobering up, but at least a key irritant can go away. Is this not a reason for the resumption of negotiations, for example, on arms control? We are definitely ready,” he said.

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