Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign made a big deal of Joe Biden’s advanced age, claiming he was too senile to be president. The Kremlin’s propagandists in the media, both traditional and social, rushed to ridicule Biden as well, along the lines of “sleepy Joe.” So far, Biden has shown no signs of cognitive decline beyond the inevitable effects of age. We all get a little slower and less alert as we age but most of us don’t need a stock trader’s mental agility and alertness. Nor do presidents.
Shortly after meeting Biden in Geneva on June 16, Putin told graduates of a civil service college that the US president did not fit the image drawn by the media, Russian or American. Biden is a detail-focused professional, according to Putin:
“Mr. Biden is a professional, and you need to be very careful when working with him so as not to miss something… He himself does not miss a thing, I assure you, and this was absolutely clear to me…. Let me say it again: he is focused, he knows what he wants to achieve and does it very skilfully, and you can instantly sense it…”
Of course one should never take Putin’s words literally. Talking up your adversaries’ strength to inflate your own is a common tactic. But I sense at least a grain of sincerity in Putin’s admission: lately, he has become more straightforward in his speech, and easier to read when prevaricating. Sometimes he projects all too obviously. Sometimes, angry or irritated, he seems unable to hold back and crack a joke, the way he used to do. Worse, his discourse at times devolves into complete incoherence. Putin’s latest call-in show provides a few striking examples, most memorably his twice-repeated “500 million people” claim.
In other words, one of the two presidents is starting to show signs of debilitating senility and of losing his grip on reality, and it’s not President Biden. However, these signs by themselves are not yet conclusive or unequivocal.