The Big Insight: Across his career, President Biden has been a consistent advocate of NATO expansion and a consistent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
1. Biden first visited Russia in 1973, making a trip to Moscow during his first year in the U.S. Senate.
Then-Sen. Joe Biden also visited the city then known as Leningrad in 1979, just months before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as part of an effort to convince senators to support the SALT II treaty. He visited again in 1988, and as vice president in 2011, which is when he first met Putin in person.
2. Biden was a key supporter of NATO expansion after the fall of the Soviet Union.
When the Senate voted in 1998 to admit the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland to NATO, the Washington Post called Sen. Biden a “key player in the ratification effort.” Biden said at the time, “This, in fact, is the beginning of another 50 years of peace.” Biden downplayed concerns about Russian anger over the move, saying, “I am prepared to predict…that the dynamism in Russia is a dynamism that looks West, sees and ultimately will see, security and stability among their former charges from their perspective, and will moderate, not exacerbate, their attitudes toward dominion.”
3. Biden expressed doubts about Putin as early as 2001.
The little-known Putin became Russia’s acting president on New Year’s Eve 1999, and many U.S. leaders hoped he would follow in the friendly path of the man who raised him to that office, Boris Yeltsin. But after President George W. Bush’s first meeting with Putin in 2001, then-Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Biden said, “I don’t trust Putin.” Three years later, Biden joined more than 100 foreign policy experts in signing a letter to Bush accusing Putin of undermining Russia’s progress toward democracy.
In a 2014 interview, then-Vice President Biden said that when he first met Putin in 2011, “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ He looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’”
4. In his speech accepting the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 2008, shortly after Russia invaded Georgia, Biden said, “We will hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we’ll help the people of Georgia rebuild.”
According to The Christian Science Monitor, “applause fell off considerably” when Biden raised the matter, and his vow to aid Georgia “sent the decibel level in the [convention hall] markedly south.” In the first year of the Obama Administration, the U.S. delivered $1 billion in aid to Georgia, about eight times the average annual aid to Tbilisi in the first decade and a half of the post-Soviet era.
5. President Obama tasked Biden with maintaining U.S. military and financial support for Ukraine after Russia seized Crimea in 2014.
That year, the U.S. committed nearly $320 million in assistance to Ukraine, in addition to a $1 billion sovereign loan guarantee. Biden traveled to Europe to reassure NATO allies, and said at the February 2015 Munich Security Conference, “America and Europe are being tested. President Putin has to understand that as he has changed, so has our focus.” Biden traveled to Ukraine six times as vice president.
The U.S. provided more than $2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine in the period between the Crimea invasion and the outbreak of war last month.