Four years ago, the business of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, was halted mid-session so that deputies could applaud the announcement that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States.
This time around, news that Mr. Trump had been defeated by his Democrat rival Joe Biden has been met with only a stony silence from the Kremlin. With Mr. Trump refusing to concede, Russian state media has referred to Mr. Biden only as the “projected president-elect,” emphasizing that the results aren’t official yet.
Many countries were quick to welcome news of Mr. Biden’s victory, but Russian President Vladimir Putin wasn’t alone in hedging his bets as Mr. Trump promises to wage what could be a drawn-out court battle over the election result. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan made no comment in the first 24 hours after Mr. Biden was declared the winner Saturday by U.S. television networks, who concluded Mr. Trump no longer had any hope of winning a majority in the Electoral College.
The official silence from China was broken only by the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, which responded to Mr. Trump’s claim on Twitter that he had won the election “by a lot” with “HaHa” and a laughter emoji. The People’s Daily tweet was later deleted.
Mr. Putin is one of the world leaders with the most to lose from the defeat of Mr. Trump, who often seemed bizarrely deferential to the Russian leader. Mr. Biden’s team is likely to remember well the role that Mr. Putin’s allies played in trying to help Mr. Trump get elected in 2016.
“Clearly, they don’t like [Mr. Biden], as he clearly doesn’t like Putin,” Sergey Utkin, an expert on international affairs at the Moscow-based Russian Academy of Sciences, said of the Kremlin’s cool reaction to election result.
Mr. Utkin said that supporting Mr. Trump’s unproven contention that the election was fraudulent works for Moscow because it “keeps creating the turmoil that makes U.S. politics look very messy” – something that might undermine the international standing of a Biden administration even before it comes to office.
One of the threads connecting the leaders who have yet to congratulate Mr. Biden is that none of them preside over a functioning democracy. There was far less confusion in the democratic world, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was first and fastest to offer his congratulations, in a tweet sent 45 minutes after Mr. Biden’s win was declared, to the president-elect and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris. “Our two countries are close friends, partners, and allies. We share a relationship that’s unique on the world stage. I’m really looking forward to working together and building on that with you both,” Mr. Trudeau wrote on Saturday.
Mr. Trudeau’s statement was quickly followed by similar remarks from French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Even some leaders who had close relationships with Mr. Trump – such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – greeted the election of Mr. Biden, a man who is well-known on the world stage from his eight years as vice-president under Barack Obama.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg of NATO, an alliance whose relevance was repeatedly questioned by Mr. Trump, was also quick to offer congratulations. “I know Joe Biden as a strong supporter of our alliance and look forward to working closely with him. A strong NATO is good for both North America and Europe,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has forged perhaps the closest relationship with Mr. Trump of any world leader, appeared to try and find some middle ground. He congratulated Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris in a tweet on Sunday, without specifying what he was congratulating them for, then immediately published a second tweet praising Mr. Trump “for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”
Like Mr. Putin, Mr. Netanyahu may be hoping to extract gains from Mr. Trump – who remains in office until Mr. Biden’s expected inauguration on Jan. 20 – in exchange for deferring to his position that the election is not yet over.
“I think it’s more out of respect to Trump than thinking [the election result] is going to turn around,” said Mitchell Barak, a Jerusalem-based political analyst and a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu. He said that Mr. Netanyahu may also hoping to convince Mr. Trump to use his last 70 days in office to take other steps that will benefit Israel.
“It’s definitely possible they’ll find some other things to do at the last minute,” Mr. Barak said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, whose government is hoping that Mr. Biden will return to the nuclear deal that Mr. Obama negotiated and Mr. Trump abandoned, avoided mentioning the new president-elect but wrote on Twitter that “the world is watching whether the new leaders will abandon disastrous lawless bullying of outgoing regime – and accept multilateralism, co-operation and respect for law.”
Others are staying quiet for fear of being on the wrong end of what Mr. Trump might do with his remaining time in office. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would not congratulate a winner until all legal processes have been concluded.
“I can’t congratulate one candidate or the other. I want to wait until the electoral process is over,” Mr. Lopez Obrador told a news conference. Hinting that he might not want to provoke an angry Mr. Trump, Mr. Lopez Obrador said his decision to avoid congratulating a winner was “politically prudent.”
SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT
The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2020