Biden strikes tough tone on Russia in diplomatic push

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National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden says the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Russian President Vladimir Putin are gone as he called for the immediate release of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

During his first visit to the State Department as president on Thursday, Biden issued his strongest condemnation of Putin as large protests have broken out throughout Russia following the jailing of Navalny. Thousands of protesters have been arrested.

The new American president was also seeking to make clear to the world that he's making a dramatic turn away from Putin following the presidency of Republican Donald Trump, who avoided direct confrontation and often sought to downplay the Russian leader's malign actions.

Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and Putin’s most determined political foe, was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from a five-month convalescence in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning, which he has blamed on the Kremlin.

“I made it clear to President Putin, in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions — interfering with our election, cyber attacks, poisoning its citizens— are over,” said Biden, who last week spoke to Putin in what White House officials called a tense first exchange. “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia and defend our vital interests and our people.”

Biden's comments on Russia came as he asserted a broad reset of American foreign policy, including reversing Trump's order to withdraw U.S. troops stationed in Germany, ending support for Saudi Arabia's military offensive in Yemen and promising to support LBGTQ rights as a cornerstone of diplomacy.

Using the visit to outline how his foreign policy would differ from that of his predecessor, Biden called for a return to the "grounding wire of our global power.” He sought to buck up the diplomatic corps, many of whom were discouraged by Trump's policies and tone.

“America is back. Diplomacy is back,” Biden told State Department staff before delivering his foreign policy speech. "You are the center of all that I intend to do. You are the heart of it. We’re going to rebuild our alliances”