US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a short summit yesterday in Switzerland, which the two sides described as objective, effective and free of grudges. Did the meeting advance Biden’s goal of building a stable and predictable US-Russia relationship? The short answer: It’s too early to tell.
The meeting took place at a time when US-Russian relations were at their lowest point in 30 years. Unlike his four predecessors, Biden did not take office with the goal of building a positive relationship with Russia. stable and predictable These are his management passwords. Accordingly, the White House has sought to keep expectations of the summit modest.
At the event, the atmosphere in the villa on the shores of Lake Geneva sounded encouraging. When meeting with foreign leaders, Putin has a bad habit of arriving late – Sometimes late hours – But he showed up on time for this American president. That gave a good start. After the summit Press ConferenceThe Russian president seemed to do his best to show his respect for Biden.
However, whether the meeting qualifies as a success will depend on what happens in the coming months. Biden administration officials have spoken since January about a file ready to answer Holding Russia accountable for unacceptable actions goes hand in hand with its willingness to cooperate where U.S. and Russian interests converge. In its separate meeting Press ConferenceBiden said he did not make any threats but told Putin that interference in US politics and some cyber actions were off-limits and would lead to an American response. Regarding the latter, he alluded to the significant cyber capabilities of the US government.
In his press conference, President Putin took no responsibility for interference in US politics or cyber attacks, but no one expected that. The big question now: Will the Kremlin continue these activities? This will provide one yardstick by which to judge the success of yesterday’s summit.
President Biden said the United States will continue to speak out about democracy and human rights, describing that part of America’s DNA. He specifically raised the issue of regime opponent Alexei Navalny, whose name Putin avoids, referring instead to “the gentleman.” We’ll see what happens, but the Kremlin sees what’s happening inside Russia as Russia’s business alone. Putin avoided questions about internal repression, turning to his trademark “whataboutisms”. (Biden rejected the Russian leader’s attempt to equate demonstrations for democratic rights in Russia with the January 6 attack on the Capitol.)
The two presidents issued one joint statement, prepared in advance, repeating the formula of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.” The statement indicated their agreement to launch an “integrated bilateral strategic stability dialogue…to lay the foundation for future arms control and risk reduction measures.” Biden told the press that he and Putin discussed the next steps in arms control.
Washington and Moscow should begin the Strategic Stability Dialogue soon. These are discussions that can cover a wide range of questions, including those that neither side may be willing to negotiate. The bigger issue will be how long it will take US and Russian officials to establish the mandate(s) for specific negotiations. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken I spoke of the interests of the United States In negotiations that would cover and limit all US and Russian nuclear weapons, both strategic and non-strategic – a logical pursuit of New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (A new beginning). While Russian officials do not necessarily reject this, they focus on other issues, including missile defense and long-range, precision-guided conventional strike weapons. Reconciling different priorities may not be simple.
The two presidents discussed electronic activities on which the two sides agreed to hold bilateral consultations. However, Washington and Moscow may arrive at this dialogue with different perspectives on what constitutes an electronic “problem” and how to fix it. Adding a layer of complexity is the fact that both sides are using, and presumably intending to continue to use, cyber means for intelligence gathering purposes.
Biden and Putin identified other questions – including Afghanistan, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, the Arctic, and climate change – where the two countries arguably share interests. How discussions develop around these questions remains to be seen.
The two presidents touched on difficult issues, foremost of which is the Russian conflict against Ukraine. Biden said he had reported US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They agreed that the Minsk process provided the way forward to resolve the conflict raging in the Donbass, although they clearly differed on how to implement the Minsk agreements.
The presidents decided that their ambassadors should go back to their embassies, a reasonable move because pursuing Geneva would require a fair amount of bilateral diplomacy.
All in all, White House officials and the president should be pleased with the mini-summit in Switzerland and Biden’s press conference. The meeting achieved what they said they wanted to do: identify atrocious Russian behavior across the red lines, leading to a punitive reaction, and identifying areas, especially those related to strategic stability, in which the United States and Russia might cooperate. Soon, serious work to build on the chairs’ discussions will begin. That will determine, probably months later, whether Geneva qualifies for the success of American interests.