President Joe Biden has admittedly borrowed liberally from Barack Obama‘s presidential playbook, readily reversing Donald Trump‘s racist policies and replacing them with those that align more closely with the man to whom he served as vice president for eight loyal years.
And so it follows that during his highly anticipated summit in Switzerland with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Biden might similarly employ another Obama-endorsed political tactic with his European counterpart: shooting a “death stare” when they meet.
Obama greeted Putin with that patented “death stare” when they met multiple times (he smiled cordially, too), but never were those infamous invisible laser beams of diplomacy aimed at the Russian president more pronounced than in September 2016.
That was when Obama and Putin met in China on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit. It was also about one week after Trump — who at the time had recently won the Republican presidential nomination — said during an interview that Putin “hates Obama” and likes him better. While Trump’s opinion has always been of little significance to Obama, the upstart politician’s support for Putin undermined America’s foreign policy toward Russia and may have factored in the “death stare” greeting.
One year earlier, when Obama and Putin met in Paris on the sidelines of a UN conference on climate change, the results were eerily familiar.
And lest we forget the time the two presidents met in 2012 when Obama’s body language toward Putin once again said everything that needed to be said.
Considering how Russia in 2021 remains in the news for all the wrong reasons — Russian hackers, anyone? — a Biden “death stare” at Putin to begin their summit (and maybe even end it) is not only a possibility but it would obviously be well deserved and a true throwback to Obama. After all, it was hardly a month ago when a Russian-orchestrated cyber attack for millions in ransom prompted U.S. gas prices to immediately surge. And no one will ever forget when election interference [allegedly] by Russians delivered the White House to Trump on a white nationalist platter.
It is in that context, and much, much more, that Biden is meeting with Putin following the G7 summit last week with the U.S. and six other world powers that did not include Russia.
Those “death stare” photos with Putin were further validated in “A Promised Land,” Obama’s first of a two-part memoir in which he offered his initial and lasting impression of the Russian President.
“Putin did, in fact, remind me of the sorts of men who had once run the Chicago machine or Tammany Hall—tough, street smart, unsentimental characters who knew what they knew, who never moved outside their narrow experiences, and who viewed patronage, bribery, shakedowns, fraud, and occasional violence as legitimate tools of the trade,” Obama wrote, adding for emphasis: “you couldn’t trust them.”
Now that we know how Obama really felt about Putin, it would be no surprise if Biden, who stands at 6 feet tall, literally and figuratively looks down on Putin (who stands is 5 foot 7) when they come face-to-face on Wednesday.
One key difference between Obama’s first presidential meeting with Putin and Biden’s is that the current commander in chief’s summit on Wednesday will not be the first time he and Russia’s president meet.
With that said, Biden already has experience mean-mugging Putin with his own “death stare” during a meeting back in 2011, lending credence to any suspicion that it could happen again on Wednesday.
Biden, ever the diplomat, called Putin “a worthy adversary” and was actively involved when the U.S. faced off against Putin in 2015 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
During Wednesday’s summit, Biden is expected to confront Putin over human rights and detained Americans in addition to the aforementioned cyberattacks, election interference and more.
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