If Mr Biden underestimated his counterpart, Mr Putin may have done the same. Perhaps influenced by the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan last summer, Mr Putin knew the United States had no appetite to send troops to Ukraine and may have calculated that otherwise Mr Biden would not vigorously oppose Russian aggression , according to US and Russian analysts.
But while some critics believe he should be even tougher, Mr Biden has been ruthless in declaring Mr Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine in recent weeks and has brought European allies together in a more or less common front.
“Like Kennedy and Khrushchev, they are such polar opposites in many ways, but they also share an understanding of the Cold War,” said Nina Khrushcheva, the Soviet leader’s great-granddaughter, who now teaches at the New School in New York. † “And I think they understand each other.”
Still, she added that they could both have miscalculated into thinking that their familiarity would lead to concessions when neither was able to deliver what the other really wanted. Mr Biden basically wanted Mr Putin to stay in his box and Mr Putin wanted to increase the size of his box.
They are both children of the Cold War, raised, educated, and married in an era when the specter of a world-ending conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union hovered over everything. Yet they emerged from that twilight struggle with radically different views of how it ended, one celebrating it as a victory for freedom and democracy, the other mourning it as a disaster for his nation and people.
They both come from humble upbringings and are products of their disparate systems, but they came to power through different paths. Mr Biden, 79, is a backstabbing politician who relies on the power of his cheerful personality to encourage diplomacy, while Mr Putin, 69, is a stern former intelligence agent who harbors grudges and conspiracy theories.
Mr Putin never talks about his family while Mr Biden can hardly stop talking about his. Mr Putin spent no time in electoral politics before being plucked from obscurity to succeed Boris N. Yeltsin, while Mr Biden was a lifelong candidate for the office. They all have a penchant for macho exhibitionism, Mr. Putin posing for photos without a shirt or with tigers, and Mr. Biden showing off his muscle cars and bragging that he wants to beat up Mr. Trump.