Biden likely to come out of Putin summit empty-handed and risks handing the Kremlin a victory, former US officials warn
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Geneva on June 16. Angela Weiss / Alexey Druzhinin / Getty Images
Biden's upcoming summit with Putin will be one of his biggest tests as president to date.
Experts say it is unclear what Biden is hoping for from Putin, who wants to keep the US as an opponent.
If Biden does not provide "clear results", the summit could be perceived as a victory for the Kremlin, a former US official warned.
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President Joe Biden's upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland will be one of his biggest tests as Commander-in-Chief to date and mark his first major face-to-face meeting with a U.S. adversary on the global stage.
US-Russia relations have deteriorated for years, and Washington has struggled to find an effective response to Putin's increasingly aggressive behavior at home and abroad. Experts warn Putin has no intention of using the meeting to improve relations and question what Biden has to gain from the summit.
"Analysts are struggling to understand the concrete results President Biden will get in return for putting such an important international spotlight on Vladimir Putin in return for Russia's increasingly malicious behavior," said Heather Conley, former senior European affairs official at the State Department under President George W. Bush, Insider said.
"If there are no clear results (and both sides have downplayed the results), criticism will mount that this high-level meeting ultimately benefited the Kremlin," said Conley, now director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies continued.
The US has sought to influence Russia's behavior amid historical tensions
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Getty
The historically controversial dynamic between the US and Russia can in many ways be traced back to Putin's unilateral annexation of Crimea in 2014, but was exacerbated by a number of other problems in the years that followed. The ongoing war in eastern Ukraine with Kremlin-backed rebels, the Syria conflict, Russia's interference in the US elections, the Kremlin's treatment of critics like Alexei Navalny, support for the authoritarian leader of Belarus, and concerns about hacking and cybersecurity have also driven a wedge between the two great powers.
Biden has tried to walk a fine line between condemning Russia for acts deemed detrimental to US interests while stressing that Washington does not seek conflict with Moscow and wants a more stable, predictable relationship. But less than a year after his presidency, the US and Russia are in an escalating diplomatic chirp.
However, the measures taken by the Biden government to punish Russia have not yet resulted in any demonstrable change in Putin's behavior.
The government imposed sanctions on Russian officials for poisoning Navalny - Putin's top critic - with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Meanwhile, Navalny has been imprisoned for two and a half years on charges that are widely considered to be politically motivated. And just a week before the Biden-Putin summit, Navalny's political network in Russia was officially ostracized by calling it an extremist. It was a clear message to Biden that, despite US pressure, Putin will continue to crack down on dissenting opinions in exceptional ways.
"Sanctions are essentially meaningless to alter the Kremlin's calculations, but they challenge the Russian economy," Conley said.
Biden and US allies disagree on Russia
The then Vice President Joe Biden and Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the media before the talks in the Chancellery on February 1, 2013 in Berlin.
In many ways, former President Donald Trump Biden has set the bar low on Putin by consistently refusing to criticize the Russian President or take a tough stance on his shameful activities.
"Biden can make a huge contribution to a successful summit if he just avoids Trump's mistakes," wrote Stephen Sestanovich, Russia expert and professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University, recently for the Council on Foreign Relations. “The former US president never understood that by not challenging Putin in electoral interference and other issues, he was making a bipartisan rejection of Congress (and new sanctions against Russia) inevitable. Biden, on the other hand, appears to be eager to bring up Western grievances, even "while trying to get relationships on a better track."
After four years of unpredictable behavior by Trump that has undermined ties with allies and damaged America's credibility, Biden vies to use his first overseas trip as president to show the world that the US is still a reliable global partner and leader . Biden also wants to demonstrate to opponents like Russia and China that the US and its democratic allies are united against the autocracy and that he will be much tougher and more consistent than his predecessor.
In heartbreaking remarks to US soldiers at RAF Mildenhall in England on Wednesday, Biden warned Putin of the consequences if Russia threatens the US and its democratic allies. "It was clear to me that the United States would react robustly and sensibly if the Russian government engages in harmful activities," said Biden.
-The Recount (@therecount) June 9, 2021
Indeed, the president has made the global struggle between democracy and autocracy a central theme of his foreign policy rhetoric, painting an optimistic picture of US allies united against repressive governments. But Biden could face major obstacles in this regard when meeting with other G7 leaders and NATO allies who have made it clear that they are not on par with the president when it comes to challenging Moscow and Beijing .
Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, refused to give in to US pressure to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in his confirmation hearing that the administration was "determined to do everything possible to prevent the project from being completed". But the Biden government finally waived sanctions against the company building the pipeline in late May. The company's CEO, former GDR intelligence officer Matthias Warnig, is a close ally of Putin.
Biden has also been criticized by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his dealings with Russia. Erdogan in March condemned Biden for calling Putin a "killer", adding that such remarks "are really unacceptable against the president of a country like Russia, not something digestible".
Biden and Erdogan will meet in Brussels on June 14 on the sidelines of the NATO summit, and this has the potential to produce as many fireworks, if not more, than the summit with Putin.
Turkey has long been considered a key U.S. ally, but Erdogan's increasingly anti-democratic leadership approach and a number of controversial foreign policy decisions - including the purchase of a Russian missile defense system - have undermined the partnership. Biden's description of Erdogan as an autocrat and the formal recognition of the Armenian genocide put additional strain on the alliance.
"The Kremlin's political approach to the West is based on instability and is unpredictable"
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at a model of the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov during a military exhibition in Sevastopol, Crimea on January 9, 2020.
Although Biden faces clear challenges ahead of his summit with Putin, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said in a recent Washington Post comment that there is still a "committed agenda for bilateral cooperation."
The former U.S. diplomat said the two heads of state and government could pave the way for a new arms control treaty after recently renewing the New START nuclear non-proliferation treaty, reversing a recent trend of diplomatic expulsions and consular closings and on agree to work together on issues such as the Iranian nuclear program, aid to Syrians, climate change and the pandemic.
"Biden's goal should not be 'improved relations with Russia'. Instead, Biden and his team should define specific safety, economic and value goals they want to achieve and then prepare for disappointment," McFaul wrote judging, Putin does not want a stable, predictable or normal relationship with Washington. He needs the US as an enemy. "
-Michael McFaul (@McFaul) June 7, 2021
Conley said if Biden "is able to reach a broad agreement with Putin on a negotiating framework for upcoming US-Russian arms control talks and Russian opposition to opening humanitarian corridors in Idlib, Syria, in addition to aggressive actions by Russia and its internal ones." Repression."
"Biden will try to break down areas where collaboration is needed (arms control) and wanted (climate change and the Arctic) while tackling the areas where we strongly disagree," Conley said. “This has been the essence of US policy towards Russia for 20 years. The only difference between the crisis in bilateral relations then and now is that the crisis is deeper and the structures and rules that were previously used to deal with these differences have been removed ”. "
With that in mind, Conley warned: "We may want stable and predictable relationships, but the Kremlin's policy towards the West is based on instability and is unpredictable. Nothing will change that."
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