World Biden is playing a long game with Putin. Will it work?: ANALYSIS
Biden likely to come out of Putin summit empty-handed and risks handing the Kremlin a victory, former US officials warn
"If there aren't clear deliverables criticism will grow that this high-level meeting ultimately benefited the Kremlin," a former US official said.Relations between the US and Russia have been deteriorating for years, and Washington has struggled to come up with an effective response to Putin's increasingly aggressive behavior both at home and abroad. Experts warn that Putin has no intention of using the meeting to improve relations, and question what Biden has to gain via the summit.
In Geneva and in the weeks that follow, Presidentis testing his own approach to Vladimir Putin's and his aggression -- on the world stage, in cyberspace and against his domestic opposition.
After their afternoon summit in the Swiss capital, Biden said give him time to see if his approach works -- trying to play to Putin's long desire to have Moscow seen as a key power, respected and feared around the globe.
For his part, Putin reveled in the role of world statesman again and the platform the summit gave him -- smiling before the cameras, fielding questions from several reporters, and defending his government on human rights, foreign interventions, and cyber space.
Biden, unlike predecessors, has maintained Putin skepticism
BRUSSELS (AP) — President Joe Biden frequently talks about what he sees as central in executing effective foreign policy: building personal relationships. But unlike his four most recent White House predecessors, who made an effort to build a measure of rapport with Vladimir Putin, Biden has made clear that the virtue of fusing a personal connection might have its limits when it comes to the Russian leader. The president, who is set to meet with Putin face-to-face on Wednesday in Geneva, has repeated an anecdote about his last meeting with Putin, 10 years ago when he was vice president and Putin was serving as prime minister.
In contrast, Biden seemed to go to lengths to boost Russia's importance. During their first photo op, the president called the U.S. and Russia "two great powers" -- an equal standing that Putin has long sought since coming to power in 2000 in the turbulent -- and to many Russians, ignominious -- post-Soviet years. In the days before their meeting, he called Putin a "worthy opponent" and "bright."
Putin seemed to respond to the compliments, too, telling his own post-summit press conference that Biden “perfectly knows the matter” and “what he wants to achieve, and he does it very shrewdly.”
Biden: 'We'll find out within the next six months to a year'
Putin talks hacking, Navalny and Capitol riot in NBC interview ahead of Biden summit
In an exclusive interview, Putin again denied that Russian hackers or the government itself were behind cyberattacks in the U.S. were "farcical," and he challenged NBC News, and by implication the U.S. government, to produce proof that Russians were involved."We have been accused of all kinds of things," Putin said. "Election interference, cyberattacks and so on and so forth. And not once, not once, not one time, did they bother to produce any kind of evidence or proof. Just unfounded accusations.
Even holding the summit itself, which many critics called a concession by Biden, and so early in his term -- before meeting China's President Xi Jinping, for example -- could play to the self-importance that Putin desires.
But whether that will change any of the destabilizing behavior that U.S. officials have tried to counter through sanctions and other penalties for years seems unlikely, according to critics and some analysts, who argue that the instability and unpredictability that Biden says he wants to tamp down is so critical to Russia's power.
"It is clear to me that Putin could care less about how he's viewed by others and, quite frankly, would enjoy the reputation of being able to successfully interfere in the internal matters of other countries," according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
But to other analysts, the summit is about achieving pragmatic steps on issues of deep concern, while laying out in advance for the Russian president clear red lines and threats of retaliation.
With US-Russia relations at low point, Biden, Putin each bring a wariness to Geneva summit
When Joe Biden meets Vladimir Putin in Geneva the West's favorite geopolitical bogeyman is not likely to get the easy pass he got from Donald TrumpThree years ago this July, former President Donald Trump stood side by side with the Russian autocrat at a press conference in Finland's capital and blithely dismissed assessments from his own intelligence agencies, defense officials and American lawmakers about Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Video: What to Expect From Biden-Putin Summit (QuickTake)
"None of this means that the U.S.-Russian confrontation is on the way out or even being eased. However, there is some expectation that from now on it might be better managed or even regulated," said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Moscow Center.
Out of the summit, the two sides agreed to hold further talks on nuclear arms control, cybersecurity, diplomatic relations, and a possible prisoner exchange.
Biden urged patience on all those fronts, telling reporters Wednesday, "This is about practical, straightforward, no-nonsense decisions that we have to make or not make. We'll find out within the next six months to a year."
Biden ally: Wait-and-see approach won't work
Some critics, like the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said that giving Putin that stage was a concession alone, especially given that the increasingly authoritarian Russian leader has not changed his behavior for years in the face of U.S. and Western pressure.
The Putin summit may backfire on Biden
The biggest risk Biden faces won’t come during the Putin summit. It’ll possibly come right afterward.That may sound good, but experts warn Biden is setting himself up for potential failure.
Even Biden allies like Ben Rhodes, former President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said that his wait-and-see approach won't work.
"We made a lot of judgments that were actually quite similar to what Biden was describing in the press conference yesterday. … And I don't think that's the right way to think about Putin," he said Thursday. Instead of wanting "certain standing on the world stage," he added, Putin "wants to do things on the world stage that are either disruptive to democracy itself or disruptive to international order in ways that will force people to reckon with him."
But Biden's approach is different in rhetoric from Obama's, which could make a difference in Moscow.
Obama was repeatedly dismissive of the threat from Russia. During a 2012 presidential debate, he jabbed his opponent Mitt Romney for calling Russia the greatest geopolitical threat, saying, "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years."
Two years later, after Russia invaded Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and eastern provinces known as the Donbas, Obama dismissed Russia as "regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors - not out of strength, but out of weakness" in 2014.
Still a summit secret: What happened in Helsinki between Putin and Trump?
Democrats are no longer pursuing what happened in private meetings at the 2018 summit in Helsinki, Finland, between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. "The Biden administration is looking forward, not back," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., whose panel once considered subpoenaing Trump’s interpreter to testify about his July 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where only an American interpreter was also present.
In contrast, Biden seemed to go to considerable lengths to boost Russia's importance. During their first photo op, the president called the U.S. and Russia "two great powers" -- an equal standing that Putin has long sought since coming to power in 2000 in the turbulent, and to many Russians, ignominious post-Soviet years. In the days before their meeting, he called Putin a "worthy opponent" and "bright."
Even holding the summit itself, which many critics called a concession, and so early in his term -- before meeting China's Xi Jinping, for example -- could play to the self-importance that Putin desires.
Could small steps lead to larger agreements?
Whether or not that flattery will win him any changes in Russian behavior remains to be seen. But even small ones on the few areas of talks that both sides agreed to could be baby steps towards stabilizing relations and letting Biden focus his foreign policy elsewhere at times.
They could also grow into substantial agreements, especially on nuclear arms control. Both leaders have not only expressed interest in it, but also demonstrated it already by agreeing to extend the last nuclear arms control pact known as New START in early February.
The takes could not be higher, too. With just that one nuclear arms deal between them, the U.S. and Russia possess more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons at a time when the total number of bombs around the world is growing and still capable of destroying the planet many times over.
Takeaways from the summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin
President Joe Biden's meeting Wednesday with his Russian counterpart came after months of diplomatic wrangling over the details, days of preparation with reams of research and the elaborate construction of two separate lakeside venues for the leaders to appear afterward. © Patrick Semansky/AP President Joe Biden arrives to speak at a news conference after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland.
In a joint statement afterwards, the two leaders agreed, "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" -- echoing former President Ronald Reagan, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and their 1985 summit in Geneva.
More important, to some analysts, is that after Wednesday, Putin now knows directly from Biden that progress on these issues will have specific consequences. Although he declined to share details with reporters afterwards, Biden said he warned Putin in detail about U.S. red lines, including 16 kinds of targets in critical U.S infrastructure that if hit by Russian or Russian-supported cyber attacks would result in "significant" responses.
"That specificity is far more likely to succeed in deterring Russian bad behavior than a generic warning about violating international norms," Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council,the New York Times Wednesday.
Even simply returning ambassadors to the other's capital could help improve relations, with the tit-for-tat cuts in staffing and consulate closures by both sides making the work of diplomacy more difficult and the opportunities for dialogue less frequent.
"If we're able to start normalizing the situation of the embassies, it would contribute to not only more comfortable conditions for our diplomats, but also it would contribute to a better climate for U.S.-Russian dialogue because angry people on both sides -- it's not quite constructive in terms of addressing serious and complex subjects," said Dimitri Simes, president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest in Washington.
Both sides have now confirmed their envoys -- U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan and Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov -- will return by the end of the month.
But one issue that could swiftly unravel Biden’s gamble is the fate of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who Putin had poisoned and threw in jail upon his return to Russia. The strongman wouldn’t even reference his name Wednesday, dismissing questions from ABC News and others about political opposition.
Biden told reporters after the Geneva meetings that the death of Navalny in Russian government custody would bring “devastating” consequences — one red line for which he’ll be expected to follow through.
Biden to Putin: Help me help you .
In a summit of self-interest, the U.S. president tried to make Putin understand that it's in Russia’s interest to play nice with the United States.America has significant cyber capabilities, Biden pointed out. Surely, Putin wouldn’t want to do anything on the cyber front to make his country the recipient of U.S. wrath. Does Putin really want to improve Russia’s trade status like he says? Maybe he shouldn’t detain American businessmen. And what happens if Putin and his country keep interfering in the elections of other countries? “His credibility worldwide shrinks,” Biden said.