The Brief, powered by Eurochild – If words could kill

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/CIRO FUSCO]

US President Joe Biden gave an affirmative answer when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos if he believed Vladimir Putin was a “killer”.

You would think that such an important question and answer would have been carefully arranged in advance and that the “killer” message was planned by the new US President.

But there are also observers who believe that Biden just… slipped up. He has been known for making gaffes before.

Whatever the case, the cat is out of the bag, the message is out there now, this is what Biden really thinks – and he is not the only one.

The motivation seems clear: Biden wants to tell his supporters at home and abroad that, unlike his predecessor, he will leave no room for ambiguity in the US’s relations with Putin’s Russia. In that sense, he has achieved his goal.

The question is how much good or harm is done when the US President calls his Russian counterpart a killer. This is not a joke, and it cannot be compared to Donald Trump’s banter, calling European Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker a “brutal killer”.

Juncker is not a killer, and Putin probably is (we tried to count some of his presumed victims).

There are many killers among world leaders, even among the US’s allies, and we don’t need an excursion in history to illustrate this. The Biden administration has stated that the Saudi Prince personally approved the murder of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but this doesn’t seem to have harmed bilateral relations.

Turkey’s military and police forces have killed hundreds of people during their operations against Kurdish rebels, with the blessing of President Erdoğan, but Turkey remains a precious NATO ally.

It is quite possible that Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron conspired to make sure Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi was killed before being brought in front of an international tribunal, but who cares, right? He was a monster, anyway.

Nevertheless, Russia will take the accusation seriously. It will also draw conclusions.

The Kremlin has misused “plausible denial” for far too long, from denying that “little green men” were its soldiers preparing the annexation of Crimea, to denying credible reports by Bellingcat naming the GRU-personnel identified as perpetrators of poisoning with Novichok. Plausible denial is no longer plausible.

Asked for a reaction, the European Commission spokesperson made today a comment largely backing Biden’s statement. “Putin has responsibility,” the Commission stated, after having mentioned the attempted murders of Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny.

A return to normal, a détente or reset of relations is hardly possible under the circumstances. The only remaining option is a new version of the Cold War, in which the Kremlin appears to have the advantage of mastering hybrid warfare and possessing a Kryptonite of sorts: the Sputnik vaccine.

But it also has the disadvantage of having exported its wealth to the West. Putin’s regime could not survive if, all of a sudden, these often ill-gotten treasures, were impounded. Don’t believe it when the Kremlin says they are not afraid of sanctions.


A message from Eurochild: Will the Next Generation EU live up to its name? The Next Generation EU should live up to its name and put children – the next generation – at the heart of the European recovery. In Mandela’s words: “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” Read more.


The Roundup

Although the newly proposed vaccine certificate should not be considered a second passport, the European Commission’s tool conceived to ease free movements restrictions – and save summer – still raises concerns ranging from discriminatory aspects to its medical validity.

EU nations will sign off on a series of declarations designed to ensure the bloc can build a sustainable, sovereign, and competitive future in its digital transition, documents obtained by EURACTIV reveal.

The European Commission spent more than €462 million between 2016 and 2019 in contracts with PWC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY, known collectively as the Big Four, according to estimates made based on official documents.

The EU will extend for two years its military mission in the Mediterranean policing the UN arms embargo on conflict-wracked Libya, senior EU officials said.

The European Commission must ensure that plans to price carbon emissions in the building sector does not lead to growing rates of homelessness, campaigners said.

European Council President Charles Michel wants to see regions more involved in the current European processes, particularly in the drafting of national recovery plans and the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The Spanish government will allocate about €10 billion of the total EU ‘post-COVID-19’ recovery funds approved for the Iberian country, to combat rural depopulation. EURACTIV’s partner EuroEFE reports.

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has died aged 61, the country’s vice-president announced, following several weeks of growing speculation and conspiracy theories about his health and whereabouts.

Look out for…

  • European Commissioners Dalli and Jourová speak at European Anti-Racism Summit
  • Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta interior ministers meet for talks on migration
  • Youth For Climate hold worldwide protests

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Benjamin Fox]

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