Top 5 leading Democratic candidates as of May 23, 2019.
Democratic presidential candidates, from left to right: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders.

2020 US Presidential Candidates on Russia: What Have They Said So Far?

December 20, 2019
Daniel Shapiro and Thomas Schaffner

NB: This post was originally published May 23, 2019. Latest updates marked “NEW.”

A crowded field of candidates stands to challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 American presidential election: As of May 16, 23 Democrats and two Republicans, including the incumbent, had announced their candidacy (or 24 Democrats if you count self-proclaimed disruptor Mike Gravel). On topics most pertinent to the U.S.-Russia relationship, these contenders overwhelmingly agree on some key issues, including the proposition that Russia is a key adversary of the United States whose meddling and perceived aggression must be responded to firmly. Many of the candidates also agree that it is crucial for the U.S. to preserve such bilateral arms control treaties with Russia as the INF Treaty and New START. On some points the candidates differ—for example, on the conflict in Syria Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a veteran of the Army National Guard, favors closer cooperation with Russia (and an end to U.S. military intervention overseas more generally), while Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor, has pushed for the ouster of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. Below is a sampling of the candidates’ views as expressed since Trump’s election in November 2016, not an exhaustive record. The quotes are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests. The current president’s views on Russia are not included here, but were published in an earlier compilation last summer. Candidates are identified on first mention and Democrats’ comments come in the order of recent polling averages; remarks made by candidates with the same reported chances of winning are given in alphabetical order by last name.

I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda

Nuclear security and safety:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden:Yet nuclear weapons—the proliferation of this deadly knowledge to more nations, and the possibility of a terrorist obtaining nuclear materials—remain among our most pressing security challenges.  Even one nuclear bomb can still cause hideous damage.” (Remarks, 01.12.17) 
  • Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris, Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) writing in response to the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review: “Our review reportedly pays only superficial attention to the substantial threat posed by nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation. These efforts are just as important as deterring existing nuclear weapons states.” (Letter to President Trump, 01.29.18)

North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:

  • Former Vice President Joe Biden: “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jong Un?” (Newsweek, 05.21.19)
  • Bernie Sanders: “If North Korea continues to refuse to negotiate seriously, we should look for ways to tighten international sanctions. This will involve working closely with other countries, particularly China, on whom North Korea relies for some 80 percent of its trade. But we should also continue to make clear that this is a shared problem, … to be solved … by the international community working together.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “I agree with our senior military officials that there is no military-only solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and I was glad to see President Trump embrace diplomacy earlier this month. … I support talking to our adversaries, but we should be skeptical that he [Kim Jong Un] is negotiating in good faith and is willing to halt his nuclear expansion even as he snatches the trophy of a picture with an American president.” (Boston Globe op-ed, 03.25.18)
  • Sens. Sanders, Warren and Harris signed a February 2018 letter to Trump, along with 15 other senators, saying he lacks the “legal authority” to carry out a preemptive strike on North Korea. (The Washington Post, 02.05.19)
  • Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas): “I want to make sure that we have effective negotiations [with North Korea, as with Iran during the Obama administration].” (Town Hall, 05.22.19, 2:30)

Iran and its nuclear program:

  • Joe Biden: Today’s announcement that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal is a profound mistake. It will isolate the United States from nearly every major world power. It will weaken our credibility and global leadership. It will allow Iran to garner international sympathy while doing nothing to reduce its harmful activities across the Middle East.” (Facebook, 05.08.18)
  • Bernie Sanders: “President Trump has signaled his intention to walk away from it [the Iran Deal] … regardless of the evidence that it is working. That would be a mistake. Not only would this potentially free Iran from the limits placed on its nuclear program, it would irreparably harm America’s ability to negotiate future nonproliferation agreements.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Kamala Harris: “Today’s decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies. This nuclear deal is not perfect, but it is certainly the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East.” (Statement, 05.08.18)
  • Beto O’Rourke: “Although the Iran Deal is not perfection, it is a critical international effort to ensure Iran doesn't acquire nuclear weapons. The United States of America should not be giving up on diplomacy.” (Twitter, 05.08.18)
  • Cory Booker: “The President’s decision [to leave the Iran Deal] puts the U.S. in default of our commitments to the international community and our closest allies. It jeopardizes the ability of the IAEA to keep inspectors on the ground in Iran and maintain continuous monitoring of Iranian nuclear sites, putting the security of our allies, including Israel, at risk. And it is an unequivocal blow to our friends and a gift to our adversaries, moving the United States further down a path of isolation and retreat and adding further instability to the Middle East.” (Press Release, 05.08.18)
  • Former HUD secretary Julian Castro: “The Iran Nuclear Agreement was a landmark achievement that prevented a nuclear-armed Iran for more than 3 years. If Iran continues to comply with the terms of the agreement as determined by the intelligence community, I will re-enter the U.S. into the #JCPOA as President.” (Twitter, 03.20.19)
  • Tulsi Gabbard: “The Iran deal is far from perfect, and it falls far short of reconciling the enormous differences and innumerable grievances between the United States and Iran, but the Iran nuclear deal was about preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon and preventing an all-out war with Iran—which is exactly what it has done. … [B]acking out of the deal will likely cause Iran to restart its nuclear weapons program, and will spark a nuclear arms race across the region. … Pulling out of this agreement now will achieve nothing for the U.S.” (The Hill, 10.12.17)

New Cold War/competition among great powers:

  • Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.): “Today we face great power competition from two adversaries like we haven’t seen since the lead-up to World War II. And we run the risk of being entirely leapfrogged by China and Russia with new technologies.” (Speech at Brookings Institute, 02.12.19, 9:24)
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.): “Reversing the thaw in the post-Cold War era, in recent years, Russia has worked against American values repeatedly and overtly.” (Official Website)

NATO-Russia relations:

  • Joe Biden: “Look what Putin is doing in Europe. Putin is--his whole effort is to break up NATO, to increase his power.” (Democratic debate transcript, 11.21.19)
  • Joe Biden: “Putin's ultimate goal, in my view, is the dissolution of NATO and the European Union rather than the re-establishment of the Soviet Union. He would rather deal with individual nations he can try to strong-arm than a unified, democratic West." (Speech at Chatham House, 10.10.18, 9:14)
  • Joe Biden: “The Kremlin would like nothing more than for Western leaders to declare NATO obsolete and cut investments in collective defense. Given Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, NATO must continue to forward-deploy troops and military capabilities to eastern Europe to deter and, if necessary, defeat a Russian attack against one of the alliance’s member states.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: “Equally important is the message this bill [on sanctions against Russia and Iran] sends to our NATO allies – that this alliance is built on a commitment to each other’s security, and just as NATO came to our defense after 9/11, we will always be there for our NATO allies.” (Statement, 06.15.17)

Nuclear arms control:

  • Joe Biden [recalling his participation in arms control talks in 1979]: The Soviets wanted a deal with us not because they trusted us, but because they didn’t. It is precisely because we do not trust our adversaries that treaties to constrain the human capacity for destruction are indispensable to the security of the United States of America.” (Prepared Remarks, 01.11.17)
  • Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand to Donald Trump: “Your administration’s efforts to double down on new, unnecessary nuclear weapons while scrapping mutually beneficial treaties risks the United States sliding into another arms race with Russia and erodes U.S. nonproliferation efforts around the world. … A collapse of the INF Treaty and failure to renew New START would lead to the absence of verifiable limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces for the first time since the early 1970s. … Abandoning the Treaty would free Russia to expand its capacity to directly threaten the entire U.S. homeland.” (Letter to President Trump, 12.12.18)
  • Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand writing in response to the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review: “Your purported plans to develop new, more usable low-yield nuclear weapons and reintroduce Cold War-era weapons systems are unnecessary to maintain deterrence and are destabilizing. Further, your reported decision to expand the conditions under which the United States might use its nuclear weapons, including to respond to a broadened range of non-nuclear attacks, is equally disturbing. (Letter to President Trump, 01.29.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “He [Trump] promised to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, but he has undermined a successful nuclear deal with Iran, has failed to roll back the North Korean nuclear program, and seems intent on spurring a new nuclear arms race with Russia.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.29.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “First the Trump administration withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear (INF) Forces Treaty, and now they are about to let our last major arms control agreement expire… New START has made the United States and the world safer by reducing the chances of nuclear war, and if President Trump won’t protect it, Congress will.”  (Press Release, 05.02.19)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “When we look at international agreements, we must start negotiating back with Russia, which has been a horrible player on the international scene, but the president precipitously got out of the nuclear agreement with Russia and we must start negotiating, even though they were cheating, for the good of this world. And we must also start the negotiations for the New START Treaty.” (Democratic debate transcript, 11.21.19)


  • Bernie Sanders: “18 years. $6 trillion spent. Thousands of lives lost in the War on Terror. We need a serious national discussion over how and when our country uses its military. I hope Congress’ historic vote on Yemen this week will begin that process.” (Twitter, 04.05.19)
  • Bernie Sanders: “I want to be clear: Terrorism is a very real threat, as we learned so tragically on September 11, 2001, and many other countries knew already too well. But I also want to be clear about something else: As an organizing framework, the Global War on Terror has been a disaster for the American people and for American leadership. Orienting U.S. national security strategy around terrorism essentially allowed a few thousand violent extremists to dictate policy for the most powerful nation on earth. It responds to terrorists by giving them exactly what they want.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “Just like the hateful terrorism of Al Qaeda and ISIS, domestic right-wing terrorism is completely incompatible with our American values. It is a threat to American safety and security, and we must not tolerate it in the United States of America.” (Facebook, 12.11.18)
  • Cory Booker (on the Trump administration’s bid to redirect $230 million in funding for stabilization efforts in Syria): “This decision will undermine the gains the United States has made and continues to make against ISIS, empower our adversaries, and threaten stability in both Syria and Iraq. … [C]utting all of our stabilization funding sends an unmistakable message: The U.S. is taking a backseat to Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime in the Middle East.” (Statement, 10.03.18)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “It is critical that we continue our efforts to track and cut off the financial resources of terrorist groups. … We need strong programs that work with our communities to counter violent extremism and prevent recruitment by militant groups seeking to exploit our citizens.” (Senate website)
  • Tulsi Gabbard: “It is critical that we remain willing to ally with Russia, Syrian forces, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and any other forces that are willing to fight against our common enemy.” (Campaign Website)

Conflict in Syria:

  • Joe Biden: “What is happening in Iraq is going to—I mean, excuse me, in Afghanistan, as well as all the way over to Syria, we have ISIS that's going to come here. They are going to, in fact, damage the United States of America. That's why we got involved in the first place and not ceded the whole area to Assad and to the Russians.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Kamala Harris: “"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad viciously attacked innocent civilians, including scores of children, who suffocated to death from chemical weapons. This attack reinforces the clear fact that President Assad is not only a ruthless dictator brutalizing his own people—he is a war criminal the international community cannot ignore. President Trump must consult with Congress to address the Administration's lack of clear objectives in Syria and articulate a detailed strategy and path forward in partnership with our allies.” (Statement, 04.06.17)
  • Cory Booker: “As repulsive as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is, an American-backed attempt to prevent it from re-establishing control over Syrian territory … would embroil the United States in a new prolonged, bloody and increasingly complicated conflict.” (New York Times, 01.23.18)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “I'd like to hear from him [Trump] about how leaving the Kurds for slaughter, our allies for slaughter, where Russia then steps in to protect them, how that makes America great again.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Julian Castro: “I think that many folks recognize that it was time for us to pull out of Syria. However, here's the thing. Once you're there, you have to make sure that you have a plan for your operations there and, also, for your withdrawal. So I'm not a big fan of the commitments America has made, over these last 15 years, whether it was the Iraq War or this commitment.” (NBC/Meet the Press, 12.23.18)
  • Former Gov. Bill Weld of Massachusetts: “I’m not interventionist in either Afghanistan or Syria.” (Interview with Rolling Stone, 04.15.19)

Cyber security:

  • Kamala Harris: “[W]e must act urgently to bolster our country’s defenses like our election infrastructure and cybersecurity, a bipartisan issue that we have been working on in a bipartisan way.” (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 08.01.18)
  • Cory Booker: “More important than building his [Trump’s] wall is making sure that we have strong cyber defense because China, Russia—they cannot match us tank for tank or battleship for battleship, but they're fighting us now on the field of cyberattacks unless we fight back.” (NPR, 01.31.18)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “[S]anctions alone will not stop Russian cyberattacks. Congress must act immediately to protect our country from future attacks by securing our election systems and increasing transparency and disclosure requirements for online political advertisements. Failure to do so emboldens Russia and puts our democracy at risk.” (Statement, 06.11.18)
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: “I want to propose a new world data organization, like a WTO for data, because right now, unfortunately, we're living in a world where data is the new oil and we don't have our arms around it. These are the ways that we'll actually get Russia to the table and make it so they have to join the international community and stop resisting appeals to the world order.” (Democratic debate transcript, 11.21.19)
  • Andrew Yang (on elections interference): “In this one I actually feel a little bit for the tech companies, because it’s very difficult for the tech companies to protect this. Almost impossible.” (Interview with Joe Rogan, 02.12.19, 1:48:02)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand: “If we don't learn from Russia's cyber attacks on our election in 2016, they'll do it again. And we can't depend on President Trump to stop them.” (Facebook, 04.23.19)
  • Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Maryland): “We need to do more as a nation to prepare for one of the biggest threats we face in this age of technology: cyberwarfare. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents need to work together and take commonsense measures to secure our cyber infrastructure so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of 2016.” (Delaney for President, 12.17, 18)
  • Former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado [on whether or not Vladimir Putin was “framed” for hacking]: “In this day and age, especially in cyber security, almost anything is possible… [T]he level of sophistication by which all the actors can create mischief is something that even three years ago I wouldn’t have thought was possible. Yeah, it's conceivable he was framed but very, very unlikely … at this level. These guys have such sophisticated techniques where they can evaluate who did what and from which computers did it originate, very hard to frame something like this, almost unimaginable." (Interview on Fox News radio, 06.06.17, 01:01)

Elections interference:

  • Joe Biden: “The fact of the matter is, you have Russia influencing and trying to break up NATO. What does the president do? He says, ‘I believe Vladimir Putin. I believe Vladimir Putin. I don't believe our intelligence community.’” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Joe Biden: “Foreign election interference is not only a serious threat to our democratic institutions, I believe it's a threat to our national security." (Munich Security Conference/RFE/RL, 02.16.19)
  • Joe Biden: “Russia … has taken similar steps to sway political campaigns in a wide range of European countries, including for referendums in the Netherlands (on Ukraine’s integration with Europe), Italy (on governance reforms), and Spain (on Catalonia’s secession). … Further down the road, the U.S. midterm elections in 2018 and the presidential election in 2020 will present fresh opportunities for Russian meddling.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: "With many countries in Europe slated to hold elections this year, we should expect further attempts by Russia to meddle in the democratic process. It will occur again, I promise you. And again the purpose is clear: to collapse the liberal international order." (Speech, 01.18.17)
  • Bernie Sanders: “What the Russians did in the 2016 election cycle deserves unconditional condemnation. That includes all of their conduct—whether it was active support of any candidate or active opposition to any candidate.” (Twitter, 02.21.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “And it is time to be clear what we believe: that no foreign power, and especially not Russia, gets to launch an assault on our democracy without any investigation or any consequences. ... We believe in equal justice under the law, and we’re ready to fight for it.” (Speech at Center for American Progress Ideas Conference, 05.16.17, 3:58:53)
  • Kamala Harris: “We need to … upgrade the elections infrastructure, knowing that Russia needs to be held accountable for the fact that they interfered in the election of the president of the United States and will attempt to do it again.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Kamala Harris: “Russia was able to influence our election because they figured out that racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and transphobia are America’s Achilles heel. These issues aren’t only civil rights — they’re also a matter of national security. We have to deal with that.” (Twitter, 02.05.19)
  • Kamala Harris: “I think we're all clear that Russia attacked our country during the 2016 election and that they are continuing to attack us today. Russia not only attacked one of our most sacred democratic values, which is a free and fair election, but also, I believe, our very American identity. … [T]hey manipulated us and they are an adversary and they provoked us and they tried to turn us against each other.” (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 08.01.18)
  • Beto O’Rourke: “We must be unafraid in ensuring that we hold Russia accountable for invading the world's greatest democracy and being able to do it thanks to Donald Trump functionally with impunity so far, so much so that they are invading this democracy right now as we speak, still at the invitation of this president. So if there are not consequences, we will continue to see this problem going forward. … To answer the previous question that you asked, how do we stand up to Russia on the global stage, we do that by renewing our alliances and our friendships. That is what makes America stronger.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • NEW. Andrew Yang: “The media networks didn't do us any favors by missing a reason why Donald Trump became our president in the first place. If your turn on cable network news today, you would think he's our president because of some combination of Russia, racism, Facebook, Hillary Clinton and emails all mixed together.” (December democratic debate transcript, 12.20.19)
  • Andrew Yang: “We have to let Russia know, ‘Look, we get it. We've tampered with other elections, you've tampered with our elections. And now it has to stop. And if it does not stop, we will take this as an act of hostility against the American people.’ I believe most Americans would support me on this. But Russian hacking of our democracy is an illustration of the 21st-century threats. Artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, climate change, loose nuclear material, military drones, and non-state actors, these are the threats that are going to require our administration to catch up in terms of technology.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Andrew Yang: “About Russia … when I’m president, I will say ‘look, Russia, I get it. We have tampered with other people’s elections for years and decades, like we, America, have done that. You’ve done it to us for the last number of years. It is going to stop right now. And if we have any credible evidence that you are tampering with our information and our democracy, we will take that as an act of hostility and aggression, and we will retaliate in some way that will make your life very, very painful and inconvenient.” (Interview with Joe Rogan, 02.12.19, 1:47:06)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “I don't see a moral equivalency between our country and Russia. Vladimir Putin is someone who has shot down planes over Ukraine, who has poisoned his opponent, and we have not talked about what we need to do to protect ourselves from Russia invading our election. … So to protect ourselves in 2020, … we need … backup paper ballots in every single state.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Cory Booker: “What all this investigation comes from—stems from—is the Russians’ involvement in undermining a critical element of our democracy, which is our electoral process. So this is a Paul Revere moment, and it’s not the British that are coming, it is the Russians now that are coming, and we know in a bipartisan consensus, we know that they have already come and what they have been trying to do. And so we need to make sure that we have a thorough investigation that’s independent, done with integrity, into what the Russians have done because it has profound implications for what they will do and how we plan to stop it in future elections.” (Facebook, 05.17.17, 02:17)
  • Julian Castro: “Far from exonerating anyone, the Special Counsel report exposes disgraceful behavior by Donald Trump and his inner circle—both in seeking assistance from Russia & attempting to cover it up. Mueller should testify and Congress should investigate charges of obstruction of justice.” (Twitter, 04.18.19)
  • Tulsi Gabbard: “One thing we do know about Russia's ads is that they were part of an effort to create division, fighting, partisanship, conflict, and fear.” (Twitter, 10.11.17)
  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.): “[A]t this point it's obvious and clear to almost everybody who's observing this that the Russians were working hard to figure out how to elect Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton, and made us vulnerable to their dastardly tactics. And we need to make sure that doesn't happen again in 2020.” (WBUR, 01.25.19)
  • John Delaney: “I wouldn't believe Vladimir Putin just because he said he didn't do it, which is what the current president is doing … I would believe our intelligence agencies. I would make it clear to Russia that we have a zero tolerance policy as it relates to them interfering in our elections.” (CNN Town Hall Meeting, 03.10.19)
  • Author Marianne Williamson: “Saying Russian ads didn’t sway the election is like saying ads for Hondas don’t sell Hondas.” (Twitter, 11.02.17)
  • Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State: “Because of some infatuation with Vladimir Putin, the president of the United States refuses to recognize that we’re under attack. It’s like December 8, 1941, and Franklin Roosevelt getting up there and saying, ‘yesterday nothing happened.’” (AP, 02.25.18)

Energy exports:

  • Joe Biden: “The Russian economy is utterly dependent on hydrocarbon exports, so its health is tied to the price of oil and gas; as those prices have plummeted in recent years, the state-owned gas giant Gazprom’s market capitalization has shrunk, from about $368 billion in 2008 to around $52 billion today.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: “The manipulation of energy markets is another important tool that Russia uses for coercion and influence peddling. … In addition to using energy to coerce its neighbors, the Kremlin is adept at using energy deals to curry influence with European political and business leaders.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)

U.S.-Russian economic ties:

  • Joe Biden: “The scope of Russian corrupt influence is exceptionally wide, particularly since Russian oligarchs who made vast sums of money over the last several decades have parked much of this wealth in the West, including in luxury real estate markets in London, Miami, and New York. These billions of dollars of investments have been used in many cases to secure access to Western political and business elites. They also serve as a ready source of financing for the Kremlin’s influence operations abroad.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)

U.S.-Russian relations in general:

  • NEW. Joe Biden: “You know, is it any wonder that if you look at the international polling that's been done, that the Chinese leader is rated above Americanthe American president or that Vladimir Putin congratulated him saying, stand fast and, in fact, it was a mistake to impeach him.” (December democratic debate transcript, 12.20.19)
  • Joe Biden: “I found out [from the impeachment trials] that Vladimir Putin doesn't want me to be president.” (Democratic debate transcript, 11.21.19)
  • Joe Biden: “Russia harbors an erroneous but stubborn—perhaps even obsessive—belief that Washington is actively pursuing regime change in Russia. There is no truth to that idea; the United States has never sought to remove Putin.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: “Even while defending U.S. interests and safeguarding liberal democracy elsewhere, Washington must keep the channels of communication open with Moscow. At the height of the Cold War, American and Soviet leaders recognized that, whatever their differences, they could not afford a miscalculation that might lead to war. They had to keep talking. The same is true today: as two nuclear superpowers with military assets deployed in close proximity in many different parts of the globe, the United States and Russia have a mutual obligation to maintain strategic stability.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Bernie Sanders: “Today I say to Mr. Putin: We will not allow you to undermine American democracy or democracies around the world. In fact, our goal is to not only strengthen American democracy, but to work in solidarity with supporters of democracy around the globe, including in Russia. In the struggle of democracy versus authoritarianism, we intend to win.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Bernie Sanders (discussing an exchange program in the 1980s between Americans and Soviets): “I will never forget seeing Russian boys and girls visiting Vermont, getting to know American kids, and becoming good friends. Hatred and wars are often based on fear and ignorance. The way to defeat this ignorance and diminish this fear is through meeting with others and understanding the way they see the world.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Bernie Sanders: At a time when climate change is causing devastating problems here in America and around the world, foreign policy is about whether we work with the international community—with China, Russia, India and countries around the world—to transform our energy systems away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana: “What happened yesterday [at the Helsinki Summit] was extremely disturbing. Our country was attacked; there is consensus in our intelligence community that it was attacked by Russia, and the American president stood next to the man responsible for that attack and basically sided with him. It is a shocking thing.” (Interview on ABC57 South Bend, 07.17.18, 01:23)
  • Beto O’Rourke: “You have a president [Trump] who, in my opinion, beyond a shadow of a doubt, sought to, however ham-handedly, collude with the Russian government.” (Speech in Charleston, SC, 03.23.19)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “When you're out there on the world stage and dealing with people like Vladimir Putin, yeah, you want someone who's tough. You want someone that demands the answers and that's going to get things done.” (CNN, 03.15.19)
  • Michael Bennet: “Today [at the Helsinki summit] President Trump failed to hold Vladimir Putin to account even on the most straightforward national security threats. … President Trump should have used this meeting to hold Putin accountable for undermining democracies around the world, a chemical attack on United Kingdom soil, and the continued illegal annexation of Crimea. Instead, he held a summit with no plan that only served to elevate Putin on the world stage.” (Statement, 07.16.18)
  • Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio): “If you look at the Russian military, what they do when there is a cultural issue in the United States … the Russian military is watching this; they go into our social media and they throw gasoline on it. They create content that will put each American in the camp that they will default to. … when you look at what Russia is trying to do, they love that we’re this divided.” (The Vindicator, 04.04.19)
  • Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Florida: “Our country is facing multiple challenges overseas that impact us here at home. From a resurgent Russia to the long-term rivalry that China poses… [W]e need to change course, rebuild our fractured alliances and lead by example.” (Campaign Website)
  • Seth Moulton: “Russia is the greatest enemy of the United States for the last 65 years.” (CNN, 07.22.18, 01:25)
  • Eric Swalwell: “[O]n the trail I talk about Russia, and, at its best, the idea of America is: No matter who you are, or where you’re from, what your parents did, who you love, if you work hard, you can be anything. And if that can be true in America it should be true anywhere. Including Russia. And the best way for Russia to make sure it’s not true there is to beat the idea here. And that’s a large part of what they’ve done—try to tear down the idea of America.” (New York Magazine, 05.02.19)
  • Bill Weld: “He [Trump] acts like a schoolyard bully, except, of course, when he’s around other bullies, like Mr. Putin, and then he turns ingratiating, all smiles, kicks the American press out of the Oval Office, and has his summit meeting with Mr. Putin with no news media present except Tass, the state organ of Russia.” (Prepared remarks reprinted on, 02.15.19)

II. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:

  • Joe Biden: “Today, the Russian government is brazenly assaulting the foundations of Western democracy around the world. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has launched a coordinated attack across many domains—military, political, economic, informational—using a variety of overt and covert means. … By attacking the West, the Kremlin shifts attention away from corruption and economic malaise at home, activates nationalist passions to stifle internal dissent, and keeps Western democracies on the defensive and preoccupied with internal divisions.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Bernie Sanders: “[W]e are seeing the rise of a new authoritarian axis. While these regimes may differ in some respects, they share key attributes: hostility toward democratic norms, antagonism toward a free press, intolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities, and a belief that government should benefit their own selfish financial interests. … All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to achieve and hold on to power.” (The Guardian, 09.13.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “Policymakers promised that open markets would lead to open societies. Instead, efforts to bring capitalism to the global stage unwittingly helped create the conditions for competitors to rise up and lash out. Russia became belligerent and resurgent.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.29.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “In Europe, we should work with our allies to impose strong, targeted penalties on Russia for its attempts to subvert elections, and we should work to help our European allies develop energy independence.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.29.18)
  • Pete Buttigieg: “[T]here’s a Russian model [of posture toward the world] that isn’t pretty, that’s flexing its muscle.” (Vox, 03.28.19)


  • Elizabeth Warren: “China is on the rise, using its economic might to bludgeon its way onto the world stage and offering a model in which economic gains legitimize oppression. To mask its decline, Russia is provoking the international community with opportunistic harassment and covert attacks. Both nations invest heavily in their militaries and other tools of national power. Both hope to shape spheres of influence in their own image and ultimately remake the global order to suit their own priorities.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.29.18)


  • Joe Biden: “[Trump] held up aid to make sure that--while at the same time innocent people in the Donbas are getting killed by Russian soldiers.” (Democratic debate transcript, 11.21.19)
  • Joe Biden: “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And that's what we should be focusing on… I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything having do with Ukraine.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Joe Biden: “Maintaining the sanctions that the United States and the EU levied on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine has been important not only in pressuring Moscow to resolve the conflict in the near term but also as a signal to the Kremlin that the costs of such behavior will eventually outweigh any perceived benefits.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Amy Klobuchar: “I'm still waiting to find out from him [Trump] how making that call to the head of Ukraine and trying to get him involved in interfering in our election makes America great again.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Cory Booker: “We cannot allow the Russians to continue to grow in influence by abandoning the world stage. We cannot allow Russia to not only interfere in the democracies of the Ukraine [sic], and Latvia, and Lithuania, but even not calling them out for their efforts to interfere in this democracy are unacceptable. Russia and Putin understand strength, and this president time and time again is showing moral weakness.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)
  • Cory Booker: What we should be doing right now is stepping up our actions against Russia, whether it be added sanctions or more continued support for those trying to literally defend themselves from Russian encroachments like the Ukraine.” (CNN, 02.09.17)
  • Julian Castro: “What we have to recognize is that not only did the Mueller Report point out 10 different instances where the president obstructed justice or tried to, and he made that call to President Zelenskiy of the Ukraine [sic], but he is … in an ongoing way violating his oath of office and abusing his power.” (Democratic debate transcript, 10.15.19)

Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:

  • Joe Biden: “Democratic transformation in Russia’s neighborhood would serve as a powerful counterexample to Moscow’s kleptocratic and authoritarian rule and would delegitimize its authority over the long run. So Russia waged wars against Georgia in 2008 and against Ukraine in 2014 in order to undermine governments determined to pursue further integration with NATO and the EU.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “Russia is actively working to destabilize countries along its borders and to undermine the European Union and NATO.” (Statement to Congress, 07.13.17, 00:12)

III. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Joe Biden: “The Russian regime that emerged from the ashes of the Soviet collapse consolidated immense authority and privilege in the hands of a small cabal of former intelligence officials and oligarchs. They appear strong from the outside, but their power remains brittle at the core—a fact that Putin and the top members of his regime understand better than anyone. Without a chokehold on civil society, the adoring applause and sky-high approval ratings they generally enjoy could quickly descend into a storm of boos and whistles, as Putin has discovered on more than one occasion.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: “Russian elections have become choreographed performances that are neither free nor fair.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: “In Russia’s crony capitalist system, success and survival in business depend on the protection of powerful patrons who can shelter a businessperson or a company from raids by bigger competitors or overzealous tax officials. Kremlin authorities and Russian intelligence officials sit at the top of this pyramid, receiving bribes and payoffs in exchange for such protection. But the state itself also benefits from this arrangement, which gives the Kremlin enormous leverage over wealthy Russians who do business in the West and over Western companies that do business in Russia.” (Foreign Policy, 01.02.18)
  • Joe Biden: “Look at the state of Russia now—they’re in enormous decline. … You know, they have a second-rate military power, they have significant advantages geographically where they’re engaged, they have a nuclear arsenal that can blow up the whole world, but in terms of their efficacy, their capacity—it’s diminutive compared to ours.” (Talk at Council on Foreign Relations, 01.23.18, 00:01)
  • Bernie Sanders: “In Russia, it is impossible to tell where the decisions of government end and the interests of Vladimir Putin and his circle of oligarchs begin. They operate as one unit.” (The Guardian, 09.13.18)
  • Bernie Sanders: “Around the world we have witnessed the rise of demagogues who once in power use their positions to loot the state of its resources. These kleptocrats, like Putin in Russia, use divisiveness and abuse as a tool for enriching themselves and those loyal to them.” (Speech at Westminster College, 09.21.17)
  • Elizabeth Warren: “In Russia, President Vladimir Putin attacks free speech and fans nationalism, but his real power derives from the careful intertwining of his government with state-run corporations conveniently overseen by friendly oligarchs.” (Foreign Affairs, 11.29.18)
  • Pete Buttigieg: “You don’t have to look that hard to find examples of capitalism without democracy—Russia leaps to mind. And when you have capitalism without democracy, you get crony capitalism and eventually oligarchy.” (Vox, 03.28.19)

Security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Cory Booker: “You can tell a lot about a country by who they incarcerate. So in Russia, they incarcerate political opposition.” (Interview with Stephen Colbert, 03.08.19)
  • Eric Swalwell: “Russia’s national news agenda is largely controlled by the Kremlin; editorial policy at its state-owned television stations is managed by the government. Freedom House has counted at least 63 violent attacks on Russian journalists since 2006, including the killing of 20. Beyond the atrocious nature of state-sponsored attacks on its citizens, it's evident that Russia doesn't hold any respect for the freedom of the press, a right that the United States holds as fundamental and remains enshrined in our Constitution.” (Official Website)

RM staff also contributed to this compilation.


Daniel Shapiro

Daniel Shapiro is a graduate student at Harvard University specializing in contemporary Russian politics, Russian public/private sector relations and the North and South Caucasus. He is also a graduate student associate with Russia Matters.


Thomas Schaffner

Thomas Schaffner is a student web assistant with Russia Matters and a graduate of American University.

From left to right, photos shared under a CC BY 2.0 license by: Michael StokesGage SkidmoremarcnGage Skidmore and Matt Johnson.