‘Russian bear never dies’: Kaine & Pence fight about Putin at VP debate

Democratic U.S. vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine and Republican U.S. vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence (L) © Kevin Lamarque
Russia does have a big impact on US elections, but mostly in the heads of vice presidential contenders. While Russians were fast asleep, Kaine and Pence locked horns over who would be stronger on Russia, making up some facts and even jokes on the way.

Vladimir Putin loomed large at the only 90-minute vice presidential debate this election season, seizing much of Tim Kaine’s and Mike Pence’s attention.

“You guys love Russia,” Kaine said, interrupting Pence and setting “the Russia tone” for the evening. “You both have said Vladimir Putin is a better leader than the president.”

“Donald Trump again and again has praised Vladimir Putin, and it's clear he has business dealings with Russians that are connected to Putin,” Kaine said. Trump said in the first debate that he had never met Putin and has previously said that he didn’t have any business dealings in Russia.

Hillary Clinton’s VP pick called Putin “a dictator, not a leader,” saying those who think otherwise do not know “Russian history or Vladimir Putin” like Clinton does.

He also admitted that both Moscow and Washington had to work together on many issues and there are areas in which the two countries could cooperate.

The two spent roughly 20 minutes exchanging barbs over the Russian President, although Kaine made a slight detour to talk about Trump’s taxes.

Donald Trump’s VP pick, Pence, appeared no less eager to disparage Russia’s leader, using flamboyant words akin to Trumps’.

"The small and bullying leader of Russia is not dictating terms to the United States," Pence said. "We have got to be able to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership."

He seized the moment to advocate increasing the US military’s budget. Broad-shouldered American leadership should begin with “rebuilding the military,” Pence said.

“The Russians and the Chinese have been making enormous investments into the military," Pence said, as if he had forgotten that the US has a bigger military budget than the next five countries combined, including Russia and China. "We have the lowest number of troops since the beginning of the second world war,” he added.

He went on to say that the US should be ready to strike the Syrian army if Russia continues to be involved in what he called “barbaric actions” in Aleppo. Pence’s recipe to deter Moscow – to finally deploy the missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on in 2009. Washington has insisted that the missile defense system is not directed against Russia, despite Moscow’s concerns.

Pence did not focus solely on the Russian leader, however, and also scolded Obama and Clinton for “awaking aggression in Russia.”

“Hillary Clinton, her number one priority was a reset of Russia. After the Russian Reset the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea,” he said.

Pence referred to the Clinton-led “Reset” with Russia, yet omitted the whole tumultuous situation in Ukraine, in which the US has played an active role, that led to the new regime in Kiev launching a military offensive against its own citizens in the east after taking power in a violent coup and the people of Crimea voting to reunite with Russia.

Pence illustrated his point with an “old proverb,” as he criticized the Obama administration’s “weak and feckless foreign policy.”

“There’s an old proverb that says the Russian bear never dies, it just hibernates,” he said... although that proverb doesn’t exist.

However, as Pence himself said while criticizing his counterpart during the debate: “This is the alternative universe of Washington DC versus reality.”