Russia recalled its ambassador to the US, a major snub, after Biden said he believed Putin is a ‘killer’

vladimir putin russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 17, 2021.

  • Russia recalled its ambassador to Washington for urgent talks about US-Russia relations.
  • Biden has taken a tough line on Russia, angering Moscow by assessing Putin as a “killer” in a TV interview.
  • It follows new sanctions on Russia over its treatment of Alexei Navalny and election interference.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Russia recalled its US ambassador from Washington after President Joe Biden said he believed President Vladimir Putin is a “killer” in a TV interview.

Asking an ambassador to leave is a form of diplomatic snub meant to express annoyance with the host country.

A Wednesday statement from Russia’s foreign ministry did not explicitly refer to Biden or his comments, but said Ambassador Anatoly Antonov was coming back to prevent “an irreversible deterioration in relations.”

In an interview aired Wednesday, Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos he agreed with the idea Putin is a “killer” and that Russia will “pay a price” for attempting to meddle in the 2020 US election. He also described Putin as having no soul.

Russia is expected to release a formal reaction to Biden’s interview on Thursday, Reuters reported.

The interview followed the Tuesday release of a report from the National Intelligence Council (NIC) which found Russia had attempted to push “misleading and unsubstantiated” lines on Biden to close associates of President Donald Trump.

Read more: America isn’t in a cyberwar with Russia and China – it’s actually the most sophisticated spy game in human history. And the US is much stronger than it looks.

The report also said that Russia “laundered” anti-Biden and conspiratorial narratives through some elements of US media.

Soon after the ABC News interview, Russia took the highly unusual step of removing Antonov “for consultations in order to analyse what needs to be done in the context of relations with the United States,” its foreign ministry statement said.

Biden’s interview statement went down badly in Moscow. Pro-Putin lawmaker Artur Chilingarov called for a “tough reaction,” Reuters reported, while Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov called it a “very bad comment.”

Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy chairman of Russian parliament’s upper house, demanded an apology from Biden over the comment, Reuters reported.

The move also comes amid western condemnation of the imprisonment of dissident Alexei Navalny in January. US intelligence says it has “high confidence” that Russia was behind the politician’s poisoning last year.

The US has responded by calling on Russia to release him, and imposing sanctions earlier this month.

Asked about Russia’s diplomatic snub in a White House press conference Wednesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said “our administration is going to take a different approach in our relationship to Russia than the prior administration,” a reference to the largely uncritical stance former President Donald Trump took on Putin.

“We are going to be straightforward and we are going to be direct in areas where we have concerns.”

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America is going to need to spend massive amounts of money to rebuild its tarnished global reputation

american flag ruined
A weathered American flag lies on the road in Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

  • The US global image has been deeply damaged by Trump and decades of skimping on diplomacy.
  • In order to rebuild America’s image, the government needs to be willing to spend tens of billions of dollars. 
  • Brett Bruen was the director of global engagement in the Obama White House and a career American diplomat. He runs the crisis-communications agency Global Situation Room.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

International influence isn’t something that comes cheap – even when you’re a super power. 

America’s badly blemished brand will only begin to get better if the government dedicates a massive amount of money to addressing the challenge. This is not even a one-billion-dollar problem. We are talking tens and probably even hundreds of billions. Despite the considerable price tag, it is both necessary and worth the extraordinary expense.

Rebuilding costs money

The US has long taken for granted its soft power. Because of the country’s economic dominance, educational excellence, and scientific successes, many argued America simply did not need to spend large sums to promote the country’s values policies abroad. 

In fact, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US shuttered many of the American cultural centers and libraries overseas, the government called it part of the “peace dividend” that was being returned to taxpayers.

The US normally spends about two billion dollars a year on public diplomacy programs. These range from government-sponsored international media channels like the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe to foreign exchanges including the famous Fulbright scholarships. It also covers salaries for American diplomats and their staff to work at home and abroad in communications and cultural offices. 

At this particularly perilous point for our nation, we desperately need a massive infusion of funds into our public diplomacy programs, increasing the budget to at least $10 billion per year. That would still be less than the cost of our newest aircraft carrier.

More military equipment will not return the respect we lost under President Donald Trump. In fact, as former Defense Secretary James Mattis put it, if State Department funds get cut, “then I need to buy more ammunition.” 

Public diplomacy also happens to deliver dividends directly to the American worker, ensuring we can secure better trade conditions and fewer tariffs. Lastly, as the world has tragically witnessed in the past year, less pressure on China and other countries to deal with their own public health issues can have serious implications for our safety.

It’s time to put the money where America’s mouth is

I was shocked by how little money was available when I worked in our embassies as a press attaché and later ran the public affairs office. 

When entertaining foreign officials, we would literally bake homemade cookies, because there wasn’t enough to pay for store bought pastries. Hours were spent searching through discounted books on Amazon, so we could stretch our bare bones budget. I even had to resort to asking family and friends for donations. This is a pretty pathetic way for the most powerful country in the world to manage its strategic promotion and persuasion programs.

Our international influence efforts have been stuck on autopilot for a while. The current budget, adjusted for inflation, is actually less than what we were spending in the early 1990s. This, despite the fact that the threats we are facing have multiplied and the policies our diplomats are asked to defend are much more unpopular in many more places. 

I run a public relations firm now. If a client did not increase their budget for three decades, no matter what we did, the results would undoubtedly be disastrous for their corporate reputation. It would be malpractice for us to continue running those programs, expecting to have much of an impact, especially following multiple major crises.

President Barack Obama worked to increase funding for public diplomacy in his first year, but it again got cut as budgets tightened throughout his term.

President Joe Biden and most of the Democrats on Capitol Hill have railed against the damage done to the country’s standing on the world stage under former President Donald Trump. They’ve mentioned less the money it will take to rebuild our reputation. With the party in control of both the executive and legislative branches, now is the time to do something about the problem. 

I continue to sadly believe that there is no restoring the United States to its former global glory. That does not negate the need to repair and try to rebuild America’s image and influence. Even a small amount of progress would pay big dividends. But, the public and our leaders have  to be clear eyed about the considerable destruction done and more importantly what it will take to regain a modicum of the trust and credibility we used to enjoy. 

It is time we finally started getting serious about protecting our national brand and promoting our foreign policy interests. Without a major infusion of new resources, we will remain badly out gunned on the global information battlefield. The sad, sorry state of our reputation and lack of respect for our country is truly a national emergency. It is one that merits being treated and funded as such.

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