Former Vice President Joe Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, that the focus on alleged collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign leading up to the 2016 presidential election had “obscured” a bigger issue.
“I think we have to do a number of things in the meantime to make it clear to Russia that they are going to pay a price for many of the things they have done, in addition to making sure that we just, in effect, advertise to the Russian population and to all of Western Europe what they’re actually doing,” Biden said on Tuesday.
“I mean, here we are, we’re talking about Russian interference in the United States, whether there was collusion between the Trump administration and Russia,” Biden said. “That’s obscured a much larger discussion that should be taking place about whether or not what Russia is doing in the rest of the world right now and what Russia is doing in Europe right now.”
“And part of it is just pulling the—pulling the Band-Aid off,” Biden said.
Biden also said he supports the Trump administration’s decision to pare back military support in Ukraine when Richard Haass, president of CFR, asked him about it.
“This administration, unlike the administration you worked in, decided to provide limited defense articles to Ukraine,” said Haass, who worked at the State Department in the George W. Bush administration.
“Do you think that was a wise decision? And more broadly, do you see any scope for any sort of a deal on eastern Ukraine?” Haass asked.
“The answer is yes, I think it was a wise decision,” Biden said. “But then again, I was pushing that for two years before we left, so.”
“And the reason is I think the more you up the ante, the cost to Russia for their aggression—I mean, as you all know, and you know this better than anybody, you know, the one big lie going on about Ukraine back in—and the rest of Russia is that no Russian soldiers are engaged,” Biden said. “They’re not dying.”
“No body bags are coming home, et cetera,” Biden said. “Because there’s overwhelming opposition on the part of the body politic in Russia for engagement in Ukraine in a military sense.”
On the topic of Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Obama administration’s reaction to it Biden’s answer was nuanced.
“Once it was learned that the Russians were put to no good and interfering in our politics, either before the election or during the transition, should the Obama—if the Obama administration had a mulligan, should it have done more?” Haass asked.
“Well, the answer to that question is I’m not sure,” Biden said. “I think we made the right decision. Let me explain what I mean. This was a moving target.”
“What we were originally told, I guess, around August, September, we knew they were up to, engaging in trying to delegitimize their electoral process,” Biden said.
Biden went on to explain the difficulty the Obama administration faced in the midst of an election but also said there was no evidence that the Russians actually tampered with the voting process.
Biden concluded: “So the bottom line was it was tricky as hell.”
Biden now heads the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.
You can read the entire transcript here.