Brief # 117 – Foreign Policy
Review of the Biden–Putin Summit
By Ibrahim Sultan
June 18, 2021
Presidents Joe Biden and Putin’s meeting on June 16th came after months of tensions, cyberattacks, and both leaders acknowledging that relations between the two nations are at a historic low point. Not much was expected from this meeting and as thought not much was gained. The two met in Geneva, Switzerland after Bidens G7 meeting with U.S. allies in his first overseas diplomatic mission. The two did not dine together as Biden had done with the British Queen. Nor did they have a joint press conference as is common after diplomatic meetings. Biden’s affirmed goal going into the talks was not to reset relations in the way former President Obama had sought to, nor was it to take Putin’s word over his own intelligence agencies as former President Trump did. Rather, Bidens goal was to establish a “predictable and rational” relationship with Putin.
The meeting made very modest steps forward in cooling tensions. Both countries have agreed to return ambassadors that were recalled to their respective nations to restore basic barebones diplomacy and contact that was lost as tensions grew. The two leaders also came to an agreement to hold talks to update and solidify the NEW START arms treaty. Otherwise the meeting proved unfruitful and left the two standing firmly in the same positions they held when they began. They reached no agreements on the issues of human rights, cyber-attacks, or war in Crimea. Putin denied interference in elections, disavowed responsibility for cyber-attacks, brushed off concerns raised about the safety of Alexei Navalny, and was unwavering in his defense of Russia’s action in Ukraine, though he agreed to pursue diplomacy through the 2015 Minsk peace deal.
Both men described the talks are constructive, but with no illusions to immediate improvement. Biden, when asked about the meeting, described “This is not about trust, this is about self-interest and verification of self-interest,”. Putin similarly stated, “I think both sides manifested a determination to try and understand each other and try and converge our positions,”. The meeting set out to do just what President Biden had planned for, not a reset, not a show of unity, but an attempt to indicate where each leader stands and to draw a red line showing where the U.S. would work with Russia and what it would not tolerate.
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