Putin Says He Prefers Biden Over Trump. Commentators Are Skeptical.

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President Vladimir V. Putin said on Wednesday that it was in Russia’s interest for President Biden to win a second term, calling his American counterpart experienced and predictable, and dismissing concerns about Mr. Biden’s age.

It was the first time that Mr. Putin had directly expressed a preference ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and the comments ran counter to the widespread assumption that the Kremlin was rooting for former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner to be the Republican nominee. Mr. Putin made the comments in a brief interview with Russian state television released late Wednesday.

“Who is better for us: Biden or Trump?” the interviewer asked.

“Biden,” Mr. Putin responded. “He is a more experienced person, he is predictable, he is a politician of the old school.”

Mr. Putin added, with a smile, “But we will work with any U.S. leader whom the American people have confidence in.”

Some commentators quickly dismissed Mr. Putin’s comments as a provocation or perhaps as a roundabout attempt to weigh down Mr. Biden’s campaign by saddling him with the endorsement of one of America’s main adversaries.

It was also the latest in a series of comments by Mr. Putin that seemed aimed at keeping tensions with the United States in check, coming at a time when other developments — such as jitters about Russia’s possible plans to deploy a space-based nuclear weapon — threaten to exacerbate the strains in the countries’ relations.

Mr. Trump stunned policymakers this past week when he said that he would invite Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO member countries that had not met their commitments on military spending.

Referring to Mr. Trump’s comments, Mr. Putin said in the interview on Wednesday, “Let them figure it out themselves — that’s their problem.”

“I think there’s no point to NATO anymore, it makes no sense,” Mr. Putin added. “It has just one purpose — as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.”

Asked later about Mr. Biden’s health, Mr. Putin defended his American counterpart — even though Russian state media often echoes Republicans in denigrating Mr. Biden as being too old for his job. When he met Mr. Biden in Switzerland in 2021, Mr. Putin said, “they were already saying that he was incompetent. I didn’t see anything like it.”

The commentary was Mr. Putin’s latest on American politics that seemed, superficially at least, to hold out an olive branch to the Biden administration. In his interview last week with Tucker Carlson, a former Fox News host, Mr. Putin refrained from criticizing Mr. Biden directly and said little about Mr. Trump, while calling on Washington to negotiate over Ukraine — a suggestion quickly dismissed by the White House.

(In Wednesday’s comments, Mr. Putin also got in a dig at Mr. Carlson, describing his surprise that Mr. Carlson had patiently “listened to my long dialogues” and that he had not asked “tough questions.”)

Even some supporters of Mr. Putin, however, questioned whether the Russian leader was genuine in his praise for Mr. Biden. One post by a pro-Kremlin blogger called the interview a “fantastic session of midnight trolling” that may have been meant to benefit Mr. Trump, given that a Putin endorsement is not necessarily an advantageous one in American politics.

Indeed, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event on Wednesday that Mr. Putin had paid him a “compliment.”

“Of course he would say that,” Mr. Trump said. “He wants to have Biden because he’s going to be given everything.”

When he was president, Mr. Trump drew harsh criticism from Democrats for being overly solicitous of Russia and Mr. Putin. That was particularly true after a 2018 summit in Helsinki, where Mr. Trump chose to support Mr. Putin over America’s own intelligence agencies, before trying to backtrack.

Russia interfered ahead of the 2016 election to help Mr. Trump, the U.S. intelligence community has concluded, while Mr. Putin publicly called Mr. Trump “a very bright and talented man.” But afterward, there was widespread disappointment in Moscow that Mr. Trump did not deliver on his campaign rhetoric about improving ties with Russia.

Asked about Mr. Trump in September, Mr. Putin said, “I think that there will be no fundamental changes in the Russia direction of U.S. foreign policy, no matter who is elected president.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

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