There appears to be a new sheriff in town with regard to Russia. In response to massive protests over the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in which more than 3,000 people were arrested and acts of police violence could be seen on social media, the Biden State Department was quick to pounce.
"The United States strongly condemns the use of harsh tactics against protesters and journalists this weekend in cities throughout Russia," a statement read, calling -- by name -- for the unconditional release of imprisoned opposition leader Navalny. "The United States will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies and partners in defense of human rights – whether in Russia or wherever they come under threat."
You can read the full statement here.
It was a sharp departure from the previous administration, in which Donald Trump groveled before Russian President Vladimir Putin for four years. Even on the rare occasions in which Trump's State Department criticized Russia -- such as when it launched its massive cyber-attack against the U.S. that was revealed in December -- Trump inevitably would undercut his own officials. He tried to blame China for that one.
President Joe Biden won't be throwing bouquets to Putin any time soon. As a Washington Post commentary recalled today, as vice president, Biden famously said he had "looked into Putin's eyes and saw no soul."
Saturday's protests were the largest in years in Russia and will undoubtedly present an early foreign-policy test for Biden, who is already being implored in the U.S. press to save Navalny.
This is from Reuters' reporting Saturday:
"Police detained more than 3,000 people and used force to break up rallies across Russia on Saturday as tens of thousands of protesters ignored extreme cold and police warnings to demand the release of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
"Navalny had called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent, he says was slipped to him by state security agents in August.
"The authorities had warned people to stay away from Saturday's demonstrations, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event.
"But protesters defied the ban and, in at least one case in temperatures below -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit), turned out in force. Leonid Volkov, a Navalny ally, called on them to do the same next weekend to try to free Navalny from what he called "the clutches of his killers".
"In central Moscow, where Reuters reporters estimated up to 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorized rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans."
On Twitter, the scenes produced sharp reactions on behalf of Navalny and the protesters from many U.S. notables:
Today, Russians stand with @navalny in facing down Putin's corrupt regime. They know they deserve more than governm… https://t.co/E3w4cN2eu6— Sheldon Whitehouse (@Sheldon Whitehouse)1611437852.0
To say that I admire Alexey Navalny’s courage is an understatement. And, let’s not forget those brave and courageou… https://t.co/OVqT5buKI0— John Kasich (@John Kasich)1611428915.0
There have been major protests in cities across Russia today, in response to the imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny. T… https://t.co/JWcgKnhE7I— Nicholas Kristof (@Nicholas Kristof)1611408722.0
Stunning scenes from across Russia. Moscow & St. Petersburg aren’t representative of Russia, so too often events th… https://t.co/EuLvJXzDa2— Alexander S. Vindman (@Alexander S. Vindman)1611413006.0
Biden administration condemns Putin’s attack on the protesters in Russia and calls for the release of @navalny. Big… https://t.co/VQUA04JjV9— David Corn (@David Corn)1611437968.0
Here are some scenes from the protests:
Russian police arresting a child during massive democracy protests today. The woman is yelling release the child. T… https://t.co/H54pc787ef— Yevgeny (Eugene) Vindman (@Yevgeny (Eugene) Vindman)1611410450.0
An incredible scene today in Russia. A riot cop tries to arrest a woman from the sidewalk, drawing a large crowd of… https://t.co/S69sxIxyZi— Kevin Rothrock (@Kevin Rothrock)1611437836.0