The days of a US President fawning over the Kremlin leader are over. According to a White House readout of Joe Biden's first call to Moscow, he got in Putin's ear on the treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, Russia's crackdown on demonstrators, its alleged hack of the US government and Russian forces' assault on Ukraine. In a reflection of the pragmatism running through his foreign policy, Biden also confirmed to Putin that he wants to extend the START nuclear treaty.
With Navalny's return home and associated protests challenging the Russian President's iron grip, the US might be now tempted to try to further destabilize Putin
. Outspoken support for the detained Navalny would bolster Biden's promises to revive global democracy. And Putin hasn't yet paid a price for meddling in US politics during the 2016 election.
But these are treacherous waters. Any suggestion the US is trying to push Putin out could make Navalny's plight even more precarious and fuel the Kremlin's perpetual claims that Washington is behind demonstrations. After all, US intelligence agencies say Putin's election interference was prompted by the belief that ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once tried to oust him.
For obvious reasons, any in-kind US reprisals for the hack may never become public. Overt retaliation against Moscow is likely to be with the familiar tool of sanctions. And while there's no chance of the kind of "reset" in US-Russia relations initiated at the start of the Obama administration, there's also no sense in relaunching the Cold War, especially with another looming with China. But there's certainly a new chill between the White House and the Kremlin.
Who sits where in the West Wing
Political operatives spend years trying to get to the White House
. When they get there, they find that the West Wing is tiny, with the mostly small offices cramped around the rooms familiar from TV, like the Roosevelt Room and the Cabinet Room. This means that a staffer's power is often designated by her proximity to the President's Oval Office. Less important aides get stuffed away in cubbies either above or below the floor where it all happens.
This new map shows who is who in the new Biden administration. Ron Klain has the traditional, prized corner office reserved for the White House chief of staff, which comes with a nice patio. In modern times, vice presidents have maintained West Wing offices to emphasize the relevancy of their position, in addition to their larger ceremonial digs in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, and Kamala Harris is no exception to the rule. Press secretary Jen Psaki has taken up residence in the room traditionally reserved for the presidential spokesperson, in an area at the front of the West Wing where reporters may lurk, but is also just steps from the Oval Office.
Meanwhile in Europe
Remember the days before coronavirus, when everyone hated Big Pharma?
Well, at least one drugmaker's pandemic-induced popularity is wearing off fast in the EU.
Leaders of the 27-nation bloc are visibly furious with AstraZeneca, saying the vaccine maker is failing to meet contractual obligations to deliver hundreds of millions of doses by spring -- while appearing to have no trouble fulfilling orders for other customers. The company blames "reduced yields at a manufacturing site within our European supply chain."
But the EU is counting on AstraZeneca. It has already ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with an option to purchase an additional 100 million -- which all together would be enough to immunize nearly half the bloc's population.
The dispute got ugly fast. On Monday, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides implicitly threatened to slap export controls on vaccine doses
, tweeting: "In the future, all companies producing vaccines against Covid-19 in the EU will have to provide early notification whenever they want to export vaccines to third countries."
That raised alarm bells in London, where there was immediate concern that the UK and EU -- just finished with their high-stakes Brexit divorce -- might compete for vaccine doses. The United Kingdom hit a terrible milestone on Tuesday, becoming the fifth (and smallest) country to suffer 100,000 coronavirus deaths. But it still boasts a relatively robust vaccination program, with about 10% of its people already immunized
, compared with big European countries: Spain, Italy and Germany have vaccinated just over 2% of their populations. Poland is at 2%, while France is at 1.6%.
French and German leaders have urged their nations to be patient, but across the continent, citizens must be wondering if the 27-nation group -- so often criticized for its rules and bureaucracy -- is simply too slow to handle the crisis. After all, the AstraZeneca vaccine that EU leaders are demanding is not yet even approved for use in the bloc. -- CNN's Richard Greene writes to Meanwhile from London