The summit between presidents Putin and Biden took place in Geneva on June 16. The meeting was held in two formats, first between the heads of state and heads of foreign affairs agencies, then in an expanded format, with the participation of the heads of the defense departments, the intelligence community and other foreign policy advisers.
Long before the meeting, various experts from both sides argued that one should not expect much from this summit. For example, it was clear that the countries would have contradictions on such issues like persecution of activists and journalists in Russia, Navalny imprisonment, conflict in Ukraine and Syria, North Korea denuclearization, the hijacking of the Ryanair flight by the Belarusians. While negotiations on such topics as embassy war, arms control, militarization of outer space, cyberspace, dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, and climate change issues could bear fruit for both sides. In the end happened exactly the way everyone expected. At a press conference after the meeting, both leaders said that the meeting had a positive exchange of views and the potential for more stable and joint relations. The leaders agreed to begin negotiating on nuclear weapons and arms control, cyber warfare and working together in the Arctic and on climate change issues.
However, it is far too early to say that Russian-American relations normalized or even predictable and stable. Everything will depend on further developments and desire of both sides to work together using diplomatic channels. The results of negotiations will become clear over the next six months.
Are There any Winners or Losers?
Prior to the meeting between Biden and Putin, foreign policy experts and officials from both US parties mocked Biden just for agreeing to meet with Putin saying that such leader like Putin does not deserve wasting time on him. Arguing that the opportunity to be close to the American president is perceived as an undeserved reward for the adversary who sponsors regular cyberattacks against the United States, not to mention waging an information war against Western democracy. After the meeting, attempts to mock Biden has intensified. It was argued that Biden equated Russia with the status of a great power on a par with the United States, thereby allowing Putin to get more support in Russia. However, if one follow closely the Biden’s press release, it becomes clear that the situation is different from what Biden’s critiques claim.
From Biden’s press release, it becomes clear that at this meeting the United States was striving for two major goals: first, to find common ground with Russia on the issues of mutual interest, and to understand how to further develop relations with a country that seems to abandon all attempts to become a democratic state; second, to neutralize Russia and focus on confrontation with China. Both goals were achieved quite successfully.
Having abandoned the US capitulation diplomacy, Biden was able to prove himself as an excellent politician, whose experience and life during the Cold War taught him to negotiate with opponents. He avoided confronting with Putin over human right violations in Russia and other sensitive issues. Instead, the three-hour talks involved a frank and polite discussion of strategic differences between the two countries. Biden told Putin that he is the leader of a democratic country where democratic values, universal rights and fundamental freedoms are part of the DNA of the country. Therefore this issue will always be on the table. Biden didn’t pressure Putin on differences of the US and Russia, and that was a wise man position because it allowed the two leaders to negotiate something really important like climate change and cybersecurity.
Putin was also able to show that he is a responsible politician, ready for the most difficult negotiations with any opponent. From the outset Putin’s expectations of this meeting were very low. This could be understood by the indifferent expression on his face before the journalists had been asked to leave the negotiations room. At the press conference, the situation changed in the opposite direction. It was clear that Putin was satisfied with the negotiations. He achieved what he had long desired – respect for Russia on the world stage. Moreover, Putin even found good words for Biden, praising his professional experience in foreign policy. At the same time, Russian leader said that Russian ambassador to the United States, Anatoliy Antonov, was ready to return to the States and continue his work. This was confirmed two days later in the publications of the Russian media.
In a situation when leaders of nuclear states were able to agree to gradually continue their cooperation, one can hardly say that there are losers. As in the Cold War era, both the leaders of the United States and Russia were able to prevent further escalation of tensions and agreed to work together in a number of critical areas. This testifies to a realism in relations that has not existed between countries for a long time. However, further development of the relations between two states will show to what extend both leaders are really ready to work together. This meeting gave Biden a chance to neutralize Putin to a certain extend and now Biden has to get prepared for meeting with Xi Jinping and continue the US strategic confrontation with China.