Diplomatic Gifts in 2021: A Look Into the Practice of Gift-Giving in International Relations

In June 2021, US President Joe Biden received the most expensive gift from a foreign leader of the year when Russian President Vladimir Putin presented him with a Kholuy lacquer miniature workshop desk writing set and pen valued at $12,000.[0] This luxurious gift was given during their first presidential summit in Geneva, Switzerland, which took place during a brief warming of relations between the two nations, which ultimately ended with Putin's invasion of Ukraine eight months later.[1]

The State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol released a report on Thursday detailing the various gifts presented to Biden and other administration officials from foreign countries that year. Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani and his wife gave Biden and First Lady Jill Biden two silk carpets worth $28,800 (Rs 23 lakh) in late June, weeks before the US President ordered the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan.[2] And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave Biden a US flag worth $700 (approx Rs 57,000).[2]

Gifts were also exchanged between Biden and his foreign counterparts.[2] At the Geneva summit, Biden gifted Putin a pair of his trademark aviator sunglasses and a crystal sculpture of an American bison, the national mammal of the United States.[2] And in September 2021, Queen Elizabeth II gifted Biden a silver-framed portrait of herself that was worth an estimated $2,200 (Rs 1.8 lakh), while former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave Biden some wool blankets, mugs and a fountain pen set in addition to two dog bowls.[2]

The luxury writing set from Putin was by far the most expensive gift Biden received from a foreign government or head of state in 2021, according to the report.[3] In this case, the price would not be indicative of the strength of the relationship.[4] After eight months, Russia invaded Ukraine, beginning the first land war in Europe since World War II.[4] Biden has portrayed Putin as a danger to democracy and the worldwide system, while Putin has blamed Biden for instigating the international community against Russia.[4]

The State Department's report provides insight into the practice of gift-giving in diplomatic settings, and highlights the importance of symbols and tokens in international relations.[4] Gifts can be a sign of respect for relationships between countries, or an effort to forge new ties. Whatever the case may be, it's clear that diplomatic gifts are an important part of international diplomacy.

0. “Putin Gave Biden a $12,000 Pen and Decorative Writing Set at Their First Presidential … – Latest Tweet by” LatestLY, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.latestly.com/socially/business/putin-gave-biden-a-12000-pen-and-decorative-writing-set-at-their-first-presidential-latest-tweet-by-bloomberg-2-4878815.html

1. “Putin and the recently deposed Afghan ruler are among the top gift-givers to Bidens in 2021 | US.Crime Online” NewsBreak Original, 23 Feb. 2023, https://original.newsbreak.com/@us-crime-online-1609644/2935389701434-putin-and-the-recently-deposed-afghan-ruler-are-among-the-top-gift-givers-to-bidens-in-2021

2. “Joe Biden Received The Most Expensive Gift From Vladimir Putin In 2021. See Details” NDTV, 24 Feb. 2023, https://www.ndtv.com/feature/months-before-attacking-ukraine-vladimir-putin-gifted-rs-10-lakh-desk-set-to-joe-biden-3810624

3. “Months before the Ukraine invasion, Putin sent Biden some gifts” The Bothside News, 23 Feb. 2023, https://thebothsidenews.com/months-before-the-ukraine-invasion-putin-sent-biden-some-gifts

4. “Dog bowls from Johnson, a $12000 desk set from Putin: The gifts foreign leaders gave Biden” The Washington Post, 23 Feb. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/02/23/biden-foreign-gifts-putin/

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