March 30, 2023

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Putin and the Afghans are among the best gift-givers to Biden in 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Russian president and deposed Afghan leader were among the biggest givers of gifts to President Joe Biden and his family in 2021, according to federal documents released Thursday.

In happier times among the three countries, Vladimir Putin gave Biden a $12,000 writing box and lacquer pen when they met at a highly anticipated summit in Geneva, Switzerland, in June 2021.

Then-Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and his wife presented the US President and First Lady Jill Biden with silk carpets valued at $28,800 later that month.

Relations between the United States and Russia deteriorated shortly after the Geneva meeting and have deteriorated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February. Meanwhile, Ghani fled Afghanistan shortly after the US withdrew from the country on Biden’s orders in August 2021.

In June, Biden also received a jewelry box of copper and lapis lazuli, valued at $1,150, from Abdullah Abdullah, who was then considered No. 2 in the Afghan government. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin obtained a carpet worth $2,650 in March from Ghani.

Details are contained in the State Department’s annual account of gifts to US officials from world leaders, posted on the Federal Register website on Thursday. The official publication of the list, which covers 2021, will be made on Friday.

All of Putin’s and Ghani’s gifts have been transferred to the National Archives, a requirement for any gift over $415 to a US official. The recipient has the option to pay the estimated value and keep the gift.

However, Biden decided to keep a photo of the late British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, for official viewing at least. The portrait, in a silver frame, was presented to the President on the occasion of the Group of Seven summit in south-east England and is valued at approximately $2,200.

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According to the records, Putin gave Biden a “Kholuy Lacquer Miniature Workshop pen and desk” on the occasion of their meeting in Geneva on June 16, 2021.

No other gifts from Putin or other Russian officials to Biden or US officials are documented in the filing.

Later that month, after Biden ordered American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan in April, Ghani and his wife Rola gave two silk rugs to Joe and Jill Biden: one worth $9,600 and the other $19,200, according to the listing.

At the time, US officials believed that Ghani’s government and security forces could survive the withdrawal of US forces. “American and Afghan leaders firmly agreed that despite the departure of American forces from Afghanistan, the strong bilateral partnership will continue,” said a White House statement from Biden’s meeting with Ghani on June 25.

In another affair gone bad, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reported receiving a $2,000 ceramic vase from the former foreign policy chief of the Chinese Communist Party, Yang Jiechi. The exchange took place in March 2021, just two months after the Biden administration took office and the vase is now with the General Services Administration.

Two years later, the US and China are now at odds on many issues ranging from Russia’s war in Ukraine to Chinese policies regarding Taiwan, Tibet, the South China Sea, Hong Kong and human rights.