Among the notable holdouts are the strongmen who President Donald Trump has cozied up to and heaped praise upon over the last four years. Trump’s affinity for authoritarian leaders across the globe has been one of the few constants during his chaotic time in office.
In staying silent, these leaders have spoken volumes about the types of relationships they anticipate having with the new administration.
In 2016, the Kremlin congratulated President Donald Trump within hours of the race being called — but Russian President Vladimir Putin has not extended the same message to Biden. On Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow would wait for official election results before commenting on the outcome.
Biden will mark a significant step change for Russia, which has had a free hand for some years now — including at the end of President Barack Obama’s years in office — von Hippel, a former nonpolitical senior adviser at the State Department under the Obama administration, added.
In late October, Biden called Russia “the main threat” to US national security during an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS. Kremlin spokesman Peskov responded by saying that Russia didn’t agree with Biden’s remarks, and such rhetoric amplified “hatred towards the Russian Federation.”
In the run-up to the election, the two countries did not reach a deal to extend a key arms reduction treaty, New START — signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010 — which the Trump administration was pushing for ahead of election day.
Putin previously indicated that he sees strategic treaties as one of the potential points for cooperation with Biden.
Chinese President Xi Jinping
It’s not hard to see why Beijing is hesitant. Biden has boasted of his ability to take on China in contrast to Trump, denouncing the outgoing President for initially embracing Xi. Beijing may not feel obliged to compromise with the US under a new administration, especially as the risk of unpredictable action is considerably lower. But a degree of consistency could also be to Beijing’s benefit, von Hippel said.
“Even though Biden will be tough on China, and will work with partners and allies to have a concerted China policy, his platform says we will work with China on areas where there’s mutual interest, whether that’s climate change or North Korea. And then they’ll push back in other areas. So it’ll be more nuanced, but I think it’ll be better for China because it won’t be so erratic and ad hoc like Trump was,” said von Hippel.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
In short, with Trump in office, Erdogan has largely been given carte blanche to do what he wants. That will be a very different story with Biden, who Erdogan has not yet acknowledged as President-elect.
Biden has said Erdogan has “to pay a price” for those actions, including whether the US will continue to sell weapons to him.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, often known as “the Trump of the Tropics” for his shared brand of populist politics and cult of personality, has also kept quiet on Trump’s loss.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro has campaigned and run on polarization, stirring controversy by making misogynistic, racist and homophobic remarks. He has also repeatedly downplayed the Covid-19 pandemic, even as Brazil suffered one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks.
“Will this herald the beginning of the end of other populist leaders? A part of the reason that it may do that is because so many of these populist leaders like Bolsonaro in particular … are in denial about the pandemic and they really demonstrated to their own people, in many ways as Trump has, that they don’t actually care about them,” von Hippel said.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a carefully worded statement on the US election in which he did not address Biden as the winner and instead said he needed to wait until legal challenges to the vote-counting concluded.
“We are going to wait for all the legal issues to be resolved. We do not want to be reckless. We do not want to act lightly. We want to be respectful of the self-determination of the people and of their rights,” López Obrador said on state television Saturday.
López Obrador’s reluctance to congratulate Biden may be down to that friendship. The move could also be interpreted as a continuation of a foreign policy tradition of actively avoiding commenting on the affairs of other countries.
The Mexican President added in Saturday’s televised statement: “We have a very good relationship with both of the candidates. President Trump has been very respectful with us and we have reached some good accords. We thank him because he has not been a meddler and he has respected us. And the same thing with the candidate Biden. I’ve known him for more than 10 years.”
Ben Westcott in Hong Kong, Mary Ilyushina in Moscow and Natalie Gallón in Mexico City contributed to this report.