USA Foreign Policy First Look

In last major speech, Vice President Biden warns against Russia

Vice President Joe Biden, one of the most beloved and controversial US vice presidents, appealed to global leaders at the World Economic Forum to stand up to Russia.

Vice President Joe Biden delivers a speech on the second day of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 18, 2017.
Michel Euler/AP
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Vice President Joe Biden – known to his fans as "Uncle Joe" – delivered his last major speech before leaving office on Wednesday, urging the incoming Trump administration to stand up to Russia. 

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Biden described Russia as the most significant threat to the international liberal order and warned the hundreds of leaders, chief executive officers, and bankers in attendance that Russia could attempt to influence a series of elections in Europe this year, just as it is accused of influencing the US 2016 presidential vote. He did not mention Donald Trump by name, but appeared to be referring to the president-elect as he warned of a "dangerous willingness to revert to political small-mindedness" and noted that "dangerous autocrats and demagogues" have historically tried to take advantage of people's fears.

“Russia is working with every tool available to them to whittle away at the edges of the European project, test for fault lines among Western nations, and return to a politics defined by spheres of influence,” Biden said, according to USA Today.

At the World Economic Forum global power brokers gather together annually to address major world challenges and how to solve them. Biden's speech, which took place two days before Biden and President Obama officially leave the White House, comes less than a week after the popular vice president was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. As his tenure in the White House comes to a close, Biden will likely be remembered for being a bipartisan bridge-builder, beloved internet "meme" star, and unusually accessible political figure, as Peter Grier reported for The Christian Science Monitor last week: 

Garrulous, empathetic, open-minded, and sneaky sharp, Mr. Biden has long been the rare Washington insider with genuine friends of all political persuasions. As vice president, he has been invaluable to President Obama as a sounding board, emissary, and guide to Capitol Hill’s inscrutable ways...

In today’s politics, partisanship rules. And it’s a new kind of partisanship, one in which both sides see the other, increasingly, as not just wrong, but personally bad. Whether someone is a Democrat or Republican fuels negative or positive judgments about personality. It’s becoming a kind of unthinking prejudice.

Joe Biden has long seemed the opposite of this. He meets opponents and supporters alike as people first, members of families with real lives.... In an election year when so much focus has been on working class voters, Biden is one of the few politicians who could genuinely call himself one of them – a son of Scranton, Pa., whose son served in the military with distinction. His common touch was sometimes mocked but always appreciated.

Of course, as with all politicians, Biden has his critics. Some opponents argue that the vice president's personal likability has distracted Americans from his imperfect political record. 

"Many people have related touching stories of Biden’s personal kindness to them, and his resilience in the face of his own tragic circumstances cannot be discounted," writes Alexandra DeSanctis for National Review. "But the unequivocal suggestion that such a divisive politician – and one who played such a prominent role in the instantiation of the pro-abortion agenda – represents the best of American politics requires ignoring his record in favor of laughing at his memes." 

But others have speculated that the personal qualities that made Biden so beloved among his fans – combined with his blue collar background growing up in Scranton – could prove a valuable tool for the Democratic Party going forward under President-elect Trump. 

"[T]here is one prominent Democrat who can match Trump blow for blow. Someone who speaks candidly and honestly. Someone with media savvy, policy expertise that his plain-spokenness makes accessible," writes Mark Alderman for Politico. "At this moment, as Democrats face down a new president unlike any other in American history, Joe Biden is the party’s best asset to articulate the concerns and needs of hardworking Americans."

This report includes material from Reuters.