MOSCOW, Feb 23 — Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday praised Joe Biden for calling him a “crazy SOB”, saying with an ironic smile that the remark showed why the Kremlin felt Biden was a preferable future US president to Donald Trump.

The US president made the “crazy SOB” remark as part of a sentence about threats to the world — including “that guy Putin and others”, the risk of nuclear conflict and the existential threat to humanity from climate change.

Asked by Russian state television about Biden’s “crude” remark, Putin smiled sarcastically and bit his lip before looking at the ground.

“We are ready to work with any president. But I believe that for us, Biden is a more preferable president for Russia, and judging by what he has just said, I am absolutely right,” Putin told state television, with a slight smile.

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Putin, 71, said that his previous comments saying that Biden, 81, was Russia’s preferred candidate had triggered Biden’s “adequate reaction”.

“It’s not like he can say to me, ‘Volodya, thank you, well done, you’ve helped me a lot’,” Putin said. “You asked me which is better for us. I said it then that, and I still think I can repeat it: Biden.”

Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said his embassy had sent the US State Department “a strong note of protest about the outrageous nature and unacceptability” of Biden’s comments.

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Antonov, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said Moscow was not anticipating an “appropriate reaction. As the November US election approaches such escapades will become routine.”

For Putin, the remarks show the difficulty of navigating the upcoming US presidential election which is likely to bring to power either Biden, who has publicly insulted Putin, or Trump, 77, who has promised to end the war in Ukraine swiftly.

The war in Ukraine, the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and US assertions that Russia plans to put a nuclear weapon in space have led to the biggest crisis in relations between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Top Russian and US diplomats say they do not remember a time when relations between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers were worse, including during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Putin casts the United States and its allies as a crumbling empire that wants to destroy Russia and steal its natural resources. The West casts Putin as a dictator and a killer, and Putin’s Russia as an enemy.

But never has a serving US president previously used such insulting words in public to describe a serving Kremlin chief. US President Ronald Reagan offended the Kremlin in 1983 by calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire”, though personal insults against leaders were rare in the Cold War.

‘Cowboy act’ or ‘old geezer’?

The Kremlin had earlier said that Biden had debased the United States with his comment, casting the US president’s remark as part of a failed “Hollywood cowboy” act.

“The use of such language against the head of another state by the president of the United States is unlikely to infringe on our president, President Putin,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters. “But it debases those who use such vocabulary.”

Peskov said the remark was “probably some kind of attempt to look like a Hollywood cowboy. But honestly I don’t think it’s possible.”

Others in Moscow were less restrained.

Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev, who served as president from 2008-2012, said the existential threat to the world came from “useless old geezers, like Biden himself”. Medvedev said Biden was “senile” and “ready to start a war with Russia”.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the next time Biden used the phrase “crazy son of a bitch” he should “try to remember that Americans associate it best with his own offspring, Hunter Biden”.

Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets said “Biden insulted Putin” while Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said the Biden remark shows the West was intensifying its attempt to demonise Putin ahead of Russia’s March presidential election.

Biden said last week after prison officers announced Navalny’s death in a Russian penal colony that it was “a consequence of something that Putin and his thugs did.” Navalny had previously accused Putin of trying to kill him, an allegation the Kremlin denied.

Russian officials say the West rushed to blame Putin without waiting for evidence. The Kremlin says the West’s reaction to Navalny’s death is unacceptable and unjustified.

Biden said in a speech in Warsaw in 2022 that Putin “cannot remain in power”. The White House played down the remark, while hardliners in Russia saw it as evidence that the US wanted to topple Putin.

In 2021, Biden said he thought Putin a killer. Putin said Biden phoned him later to give an explanation of why he used such words. — Reuters