The news of the upcoming meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joseph Biden caused quite a stir around the world. On the one hand, this is quite expected. On the other, this stir is difficult to explain from the viewpoint of the prevailing political paradigm in the West.
Russia under Vladimir Putin's leadership has its own idea of the future world order
According to the western paradigm, Russia is nothing more than a rogue state, drowning in sanctions, only thinking of doing harm to its neighbors, undermining European unity with its natural gas policy and destroying all freedom-loving people in its territory. What good is talking to it?
Didn't Biden promise that Putin would "pay back" for his alleged meddling in the U.S. election? Didn't he answer positively to the journalist's tricky question about whether he considered his Russian colleague a "killer"?
This happened on March 17. Less than a month later, on April 13th, the Kremlin and the White House had a conversation at Washington's request, during which Biden offered Vladimir Putin a personal meeting. The very next day, the Americans imposed another package of sanctions against Russia. On top of that, they expelled 10 Russian diplomats. What kind of policy is it?
Such political schizophrenia is typical for Anglo-Saxon diplomacy. Russian diplomacy since the era of Prince Alexander Gorchakov [a Russian diplomat who has an enduring reputation as one of the most influential and respected diplomats of the mid-19th century] or perhaps even earlier as Gorchakov had also learned from someone has been firmly based on objective reality. The objective reality is that Russian-American relations are, apparently, at their lowest point since the unforgettable "peregruzka" (reset) of 2009.
People in Russia, the United States and also in other countries, especially those that have successfully “crippled” their own economies by supporting U.S. sanctions against Russia, understand this. The rapprochement between Russia and the U.S. means that these countries will have to pay for Washington’s policy. That is why political analysts and politicians all over the world got so excited when the Kremlin, on May 25, confirmed its readiness for a summit meeting.
The Russian and U.S. presidents do not meet very often. Vladimir Putin last met with his U.S. counterpart (Donald Trump) in July 2017. Back then, the heads of states talked face-to-face for two hours instead of the planned 30 minutes, and even the charming Melanie Trump could not interrupt their dialogue. There haven’t been any direct visits since 2013. No wonder the meeting in Geneva is causing so much interest.
The upcoming summit has been compared to the meeting in Vienna between U.S. President John F. Kennedy and the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in June 1961 as well as to the first meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Geneva in November 1985. Not only did the meeting in Austria not yield any results, the Cuban Missile Crisis that erupted soon thereafter brought the world on the brink of a real nuclear war. However, the Swiss summit was followed by Reykjavik, which became the "beginning of the end" of the Cold War and the arms race. At least, on the part of the Soviet Union.
Much has changed over the past 35 years. Vladimir Putin, a pragmatic and tough leader, has nothing in common with the soft-hearted and romantic Gorbachev. Biden's America, torn apart by internal strife and gradually losing its former economic and industrial power, is not the world hegemon it used to be under Reagan.
Many understand this and are worried, in the first place residents of the United States. For example, Jed Babbin, a columnist for The American Spectator and former deputy defense secretary, believes that Biden lost to Putin even before the meeting started as he refused to prolong Donald Trump’s sanctions against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Not mentioning Biden's opponents in the Republican party, who generally believe that the White House needs the summit more than the Kremlin, and that Biden literally "begged" Putin for it.
European countries are not very enthusiastic about this summit either, from the Baltic states (where the normalization of relations would deprive them of revenues from professional Russophobia) to a part of the German political spectrum. They hope that Biden "will not give in to Putin's pressure" suggesting, in eager rivalry the agenda items on which they believe the U.S. President should stand ground.
Surprisingly, China is also worried about the Geneva meeting. According to the Global Times, a national English language newspaper which is practically the official tool of the CPC, Biden might try to drag Russia into the anti-Chinese coalition being formed by the United States in exchange for a slight easing of sanctions. To my thinking, it is a wasted concern.
The opinions of Russian commentators have ranged widely from "Putin is going to accept U.S. capitulation" to "Putin is going to sign the surrender treaty.” It is, of course, ridiculous to discuss both extremes. Most political experts and analysts share the concern that agreements with the United States are not worth the paper they are written on. If unrecorded, they are absolutely useless: suffice it to recall the pledge made to Gorbachev not to expand NATO eastward, which the Americans are now denying in every possible way.
The agenda of the meeting also raises a lot of questions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki voiced the American scenario: the parties will focus on strategic stability and control of offensive armaments (especially nuclear weapons), and the situation in Ukraine and Belarus. A little later, Biden added human rights violations to the list.
The Russian version of the agenda is more realistic. It includes, above all, current inter-state relations, resistance to the COVID-19 pandemic, and settlement of regional conflicts. Ensuring strategic stability is the only one match with the White House list. The question, however, is what our partners mean by this.
Anyway, discussing the proposed agenda, let alone the likely outcome of the negotiations, is now as pointless as reading coffee grounds. International relations are not at all the area that opens all doors to the curious public and shows its backstage. We’ll probably know much later, if at all what was really discussed or what they agreed.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that no conclusions can be drawn from the very fact of the forthcoming meeting in Geneva. Firstly, the United States is objectively in an extremely difficult situation on many points. They include the situation in its industry and economy in general, and a whole series of failed geopolitical ventures like Afghanistan and Syria. The U.S. needs help from its partners to handle this situation with minimal losses.
Secondly, the attempt to quickly repair relations with Russia rather than the European Union or China, which are not perfect either, shows that Washington sees no one but Russia as such a partner. This is also an objective viewpoint that is shared by the business elite. International investors, according to expert Alexander Ivlev, expect the Geneva meeting to create “normal conditions for further functioning of the world economy.”
A little more than twenty years ago, Bill Clinton patted "friend Boris" on the back talking about eternal friendship, while multinational companies were siphoning off Russia's national wealth, and Western political analysts were arguing about how soon and into how many parts Russia would break up. In such a short time, Vladimir Putin and his team have returned Russia its deserved crucial role in world geopolitics.
Whatever the outcome of the Geneva meeting, it is obviously impossible to build the future world order without taking into account Russia's opinion and its active participation. It will not work.