Russian President Vladimir Putin knows Joe Biden’s weakness. And on Thursday, he retaliated against the U.S. President by offering a challenge that Biden is unlikely to accept: A live television debate.
The unfriendly offer comes after Biden labeled Putin a “killer” in a sit-down interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired Wednesday. Biden also promised that Putin will “pay a price” for election meddling.
“He will pay a price. We had a long talk, he and I, I know him relatively well,” Biden said. “And the conversation started off, I said, ‘I know you and you know me. If I establish this occurred, then be prepared.’”
Asked by Stephanopoulos about his remark that he ‘did not believe the Russian president had a soul,’ Biden doubled down on the claim.
“I did say that to him, yes, and his response was, ‘We understand one another.’ I wasn’t being a wise guy, I was alone with him in his office and that’s how it came about,” he said.
On Thursday, Putin replied with what some are perceiving as a ‘veiled threat.’
My original translation from Russian to English aims to capture a bit more of the nuance than is being widely reported. Putin says not only once, but twice that he wants Biden to ‘be healthy.’
“I would simply say to him, ‘be healthy,’” Putin said. “I wish you good health. I say that without irony and not as a joke.”
Jen Psaki, at her White House press conference, said that Biden had no regrets about calling Putin a “killer.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s defense minister Benny Gantz questioned the wisdom of Biden’s language, calling it “bizarre and extreme.”
Although no one is defending Putin’s authoritarian regime, one has to wonder if Biden would use such charged language against Chinese president Xi Jinping, who is actually engaging in ethnic cleansing against the Uighur minority.
Later on in the afternoon, the Russian president made Biden an offer that is tantamount to political kryptonite: A live debate.
“I’ve just thought of this now,” Putin told a Russian reporter. “I want to propose to President Biden to continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it basically live, as it’s called. Without any delays and directly in an open, direct discussion. It seems to me that would be interesting for the people of Russia and for the people of the United States.”
Biden’s critics instantly recognized this as a flex on a president who has avoided giving a press briefing for nearly two months, has not given a State of the Union address, and has dodged questions from live reporters.
There is one thing we can conclude: Putin would not be so aggressive calling for a live debate if his presidential counterpart were Donald Trump and not Joe Biden.