President Joe Biden approached his first face-to-face summit with his Russian counterpart on Wednesday with one of the longest foreign policy résumés of an American leader in recent history. Biden’s experience with Russian affairs spans more than 38 of his years in federal public office under seven US presidents other than himself. He has met with at least three Soviet leaders and two Russian presidents.
With the exception of SALT-I, he played major and minor roles in each of the most consequential arms treaties between the two nuclear powers over the past 50 years. He previously met with Russian President Vladimir Putin when Biden was vice president and Putin was prime minister.
This time, however, Biden met with Putin as an equal rather than as another president’s envoy. This week was the first major test of how well Biden’s extensive background serves him at a particularly low point in US-Russia relations amid cyberattacks emanating from Russia and the treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
What do Biden’s previous years of Russian experience tell us about his approach today? As both a senator and vice president, he was frequently dispatched to Russia as a diplomatic closer. While not always successful, he has played a leading role in shaping US foreign policy, especially with the expansion of NATO and the negotiation and ratification of arms treaties.