How and why Biden makes peace with Putin to focus on China

How and why Biden makes peace with Putin to focus on China

Enzo Reale's analysis of the summit between Biden and Putin, for Atlantico Quotidiano

A strange summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Strange above all for the attitude of the American president, who passed in a few weeks from considering his interlocutor a " killer " to the official invitation to Geneva. It is also strange for that apparent nothingness, beyond the statements of fact in the separate press conferences, which followed their meeting. Not that expectations were high, given the dynamics of recent months between Washington and Moscow. But if there is anyone who seems to emerge victorious from the confrontation it is precisely the Russian who, without overdoing it, has managed to collect an important diplomatic success that crowns one of his main objectives: to be recognized by the opponent as a counterpart in all respects. A lifesaver that the White House throws at a Putin in serious international difficulty, after the Navalny affair, the support for Lukashenko and the renewed skirmishes in the Donbass.

There is only one possible reading to make sense of this meeting strongly desired by the Biden administration: the need to cool the Eastern front in Europe to focus on the Asian one, read Chinese. Hence the substantial green light for North Stream 2 , the easing of tension on the Black Sea, the ambiguity on the NATO ambitions of Ukraine, all crowned by the "pragmatic" meeting in Geneva. It would be interesting to understand to what extent it has been, since arms control and cybersecurity are certainly not the real reasons that led to the organization of this summit . The next few weeks will give us some additional information.

For the moment we must be content with official statements, in which the two leaders spoke mainly to their respective listeners: protection of human rights, high attention on Navalny and red lines on Russian meddling in American politics, for Biden; firmness in the prevention of internal instability, rejection of Western pressure in the near abroad and balloons out on allegations of cyber attacks, for Putin.

But the devil is in the details. First of all, the lack of weight given by both sides to the Ukrainian question is surprising. What was a key issue in relations between Russia and the West until April has practically been dismissed as business as usual. Biden took it upon himself during the NATO summit to freeze Zelensky's enthusiasm for the prospect of membership and Putin dismissed the matter with a dry joke: " There is nothing to discuss ". On the Donbass, the US president limited himself to reiterating his support for the Minsk agreements. Probable conclusion: the two have agreed to maintain the status quo , which in practice means that Putin can consolidate the positions acquired by force without significant interference in the immediate future. Not a good sign for Kiev and the allies of Central and Eastern Europe who, while they see the gas pipeline of discord ( North Stream 2 ) being completed before their eyes, must also take note of the probable downsizing of the NATO nuclear program in Europe and the rejection to increase military aid to Ukraine. Clearly relaxing moves, bordering on appeasement , destined – in Washington's intentions – to buy if not the collaboration at least the neutrality of Russia in the geopolitical match that the Americans currently consider as a priority, the one with China.

It is in a way a reversal of perspective from the initial expectations that accompanied Biden's arrival in the White House. Analysts observed at the time that Trump's successor would seek an initial settlement with Beijing to focus on the weakening of the historic Russian rival, against whom he promised relentless marking. It was an opinion fueled by the same statements by Biden and his entourage , in line with the Democratic Party's apparent hard line towards the Putin regime. Evidence shows that the rhetoric has given way to a month now in a completely different scenario, made of diplomatic recognition and concrete concessions from the US, so that if instead of Biden was still there Trump resonate today in the mainstream press allegations docility, if not complicity, towards the enemy.

The change in American strategy can make sense, when read from the perspective of Chinese containment. In the international relations manual, Moscow's involvement in an anti-Chinese function is a dogma from which it is difficult to free oneself. However, the suddenness of the change makes us reflect which, at the very least, has not been adequately explained at the level of public opinion. Many in the United States today, even among the media close to the Biden presidency, are wondering what the urgent need was to convene a bilateral summit that would be used by Putin as a showcase to reaffirm his international projection and to become accredited as a leader of an indispensable power to the projects of the West. But the main risk of the new Bidenian policy lies in the fact of having to trust in the goodness of the counterpart's intentions, to which Washington has even handed over a list of especially sensitive targets to be kept on the sidelines of cyber-attacks . An even suspicious naivety which, it is to be hoped, should imply a series of concrete commitments on the Russian side of which, moreover, there is no news at the moment.

Opening the doors of European geopolitics to Putin risks compromising a vital strategic interest of the United States, namely preventing Russia from increasing its sphere of influence on the continent. This was the logic underlying the opposition to North Stream 2 , which has now fallen, and in general the pressure that Washington was exerting on the Russian neighboring foreign countries (Ukraine, Black Sea, Turkey). The détente inaugurated by Biden, on the other hand, will likely be used by Putin as a great victory of image on the domestic level, where the repression of dissent and political opposition continues, and as a precedent to be used in the event of further expansionary initiatives. If at the moment of Russia's greatest international isolation an unexpected lifesaver arrived from Washington, it will be difficult to expect restrictive or at least prudent conduct from the Kremlin when the opportunity arises to sink the blow.

It is no coincidence that, in the days immediately preceding the summit, Putin declared during an interview with NBC that the " attempts to destroy relations between Russia and China " between which it had developed – always in his own words – would have served no purpose. – “ a strategic partnership never seen before ”. Quite a clear message to his host that apparently did not stop the summit from running as planned. As a first concrete result to report the announced return of the ambassadors to their respective diplomatic offices, otherwise good intentions, some non-binding commitments on armaments and a handshake for which the Russian has broken his pandemic isolation. But if Biden's undeclared intentions were to recover Russia ahead of the head-on confrontation with China, there seems to be a lot of work still to be done. Officially, the summit meeting was classified under the heading " prevention of further disagreements " between the parties: in short, a discussion forum in which disputes were not resolved but their respective positions were put on the table. Maybe a phone call was enough, though.

PS Back home, Vladimir Putin told reporters yesterday that Joe Biden has no memory lapses, that all his notes are consulted and that in the three hours of conversation with him he was lucid. In short, she has seen fit to thank him like that.

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL on Sun, 20 Jun 2021 06:26:00 +0000.