Putin Won't Congratulate Biden Until All Legal Procedures Are Finished, Russian Ambassador Says

Russia's ambassador to the U.S. has defended President Vladimir Putin's refusal to congratulate projected President-Elect Joe Biden on his electoral victory, suggesting the Kremlin will only do so once all "legal procedures" have been completed.

Putin is the last major world leader to have not congratulated Biden on his victory, which President Donald Trump is still battling in the courts and in the media.

Russian officials have denied there is any ulterior motive behind Putin's delay in congratulating Biden, who is projected to win 306 electoral college votes on December 14 and be sworn in as the next president on January 20.

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov told a Wednesday video conference organized by the Brookings Institution that the Russian government is following the normal protocol.

"Firstly, I am not working in the Kremlin, I am not in close contact with Mr. Putin," Antonov said. "But, of course, I am aware of the position of the Russian Federation on this issue. We consider that it's American people who decide themselves who will run this country. We will recognize any choice that your people make."

"As I understand, we need to wait [for the end] of some legal procedures in your country, when all official results will be announced," he added. "It goes without saying that after this moment or this event, everything will be done in accordance with the state protocol."

Putin said before the election Russia would be open to working with either candidate, though the Kremlin's meddling in the 2016 election to support Trump's campaign is well documented. Intelligence officials warned that Moscow was planning to do the same in last month's election.

Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge any Russian interference on his behalf, whether unilateral or in direct coordination with his campaign. The former has been conclusively proven, the latter has not.

The Russian strongman's silence has played into the suggestion that the Kremlin would have preferred a second Trump term, and fits with Moscow's long-standing strategy of sowing confusion and mistrust in American democracy.

Trump is resorting to longshot litigation and conspiracy theories to dispute Biden's victory, though has said he will leave the White House in January if Biden's win is certified. The New York Times reported last month that Trump has privately accepted his defeat, but is embarking on a performative campaign against the results regardless.

Trump's legal challenges are failing and even Attorney General Bill Barr—widely criticized for wielding the department's power on Trump's behalf—said this week there was no evidence of significant electoral fraud that would have affected the result.

The General Services Administration has also recognized Biden's victory and begun the official transition process, with which Trump has ordered officials to cooperate even while publicly disputing the election results.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia, on November 21, 2020. ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images/Getty