Biden Aims to Bolster U.S. Alliances in Europe, but Challenges Loom

Biden Aims to Bolster U.S. Alliances in Europe, but Challenges Loom

“Putin doesn’t necessarily want a more stable or predictable relationship,” said Alexander Vershbow, who was an ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush. “The best case one can hope for is that the two leaders will argue about a lot of things but continue the dialogue.”

White House officials say the president has no intention of trying to reset the relationship with Russia. Having called Mr. Putin a “killer” this year, Mr. Biden is cleareyed about his adversary, they said: He regards Mr. Putin more as a hardened mafia boss, ordering hits with the country’s supply of nerve agents, than a national leader.

But Mr. Biden is determined to put guardrails on the relationship, seeing out some measure of cooperation, starting with the future of their nuclear arsenals.

But there is a dawning awareness in Europe that while Mr. Putin cherishes his growing arsenal, Russia’s nuclear ability is a strategic remnant of an era of superpower conflict. In what Mr. Putin recently called a new Cold War with the United States, the weapons of choice are cyberweapons, ransomware wielded by gangs operating from Russian territory and the ability to shake neighbors like Ukraine by massing troops on the border.

Mr. Biden will embrace NATO and Article V of its charter, the section that commits every member of the alliance to consider an armed attack on one as an armed attack on all. But it is less clear what constitutes an armed attack in the modern age: a cyberstrike like the SolarWinds hacking that infiltrated corporate and government networks? The movement of intermediate-range missiles and Russian troops to the border of Ukraine, which is not a NATO member?

Mr. Biden’s associates say the key is for him to make clear that he has seen Mr. Putin’s bravado before and that it does not faze him.

“Joe Biden is not Donald Trump,” said Thomas E. Donilon, who was a national security adviser to President Barack Obama and whose wife and brother are key aides to Mr. Biden. “You’re not going to have this inexplicable reluctance of a U.S. president to criticize a Russian president who is leading a country that is actively hostile to the United States in so many areas. You won’t have that.”

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