No Major Changes in US-Russia Relations After the Summit
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
The long-awaited meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin has finally taken place. This Wednesday, both heads of state met in Geneva to debate some of the most important issues in the contemporary world, such as nuclear weapons, cyber security, and human rights. Despite high expectations, the meeting may have been a mere diplomatic formality, given the recent tensions between the two countries and the increasingly aggressive Western stance towards Russia.
In recent weeks, the world has eagerly awaited the meeting between the leaders of the two greatest global military powers. Amidst a scenario of international tensions, it was expected that both presidents would have fruitful discussions and be able to reach agreements of strategic interest. However, the meeting does not seem to have had an aspect as significant as expected, leaving doubts about its ability to generate real effects in bilateral relations.
On nuclear weapons, both presidents pledged to establish mutual efforts to maintain the balance of the global nuclear scenario. Putin said his administration plans to start a discussion with Washington about the possibility of significantly expanding the New Start agreement, to which Biden agreed, in an attempt to solve the problem created by Donald Trump last year – when the former president rejected Russia’s attempt to expand the nuclear agreement. The American leader emphasized that both countries are not in a “new cold war” – a thesis defended by many experts in recent years.
With regard to cybersecurity, Biden stressed that infrastructure-related systems have to be respected and should be “off limits” to hacking attempts. However, both presidents maintained mutual accusations of cyberattacks: Biden emphasized that Washington suffered attacks from anonymous hackers based on Russian territory and Putin said that most of the cyberattacks suffered by Russia come from the US and Canada.
On human rights, Biden kept the speech in defense of Alexey Navalny intact, stating that Washington is concerned with respect for human rights and maintaining his well-known progressive and humanitarian discourse. Putin responded by claiming that Navalny’s arrest met all legal requirements and that his opponent knew that if he returned to Russia he would be arrested for crimes committed before his stay in Germany – a condition he accepted by returning to Moscow this year.
Another point discussed at the meeting was the return of diplomats. In April, US expelled Russian diplomats and imposed several sanctions on Moscow in retaliation for alleged “Russian interference” in the US electoral process, and, in the same vein, Russia expelled US diplomats accused of espionage. After the meeting, it was decided that the diplomats would return to both countries, but technical issues were not addressed.
The long-awaited meeting did not bring pivotal changes. Both leaders maintained their mutual accusations and showed little effort to improve their relations. The meeting followed a simple diplomatic protocol, seeming much more like a formality than an effective action in search of improvements.
Nothing else could be expected from the meeting, considering that it took place the same week the American president described Russia as a threat to the West during the NATO summit. Biden showed extreme disrespect for Moscow at the meeting with leaders of the Atlantic military alliance, which makes it clear that Washington is unwilling to change its bellicose and inflexible view about Russia.
How, then, could it be expected that two days after the NATO summit, there would be any real improvement with the meeting between Putin and Biden? This does not seem like a coincidence: Biden has made it clear that he does not intend to change his policy on Russia—at least not for the better. And, in turn, Putin has also shown an unwillingness to work for change, with the status quo of tensions and diplomatic crisis continuing.
What we may expect for the future after this meeting is exactly what was expected before it: continuing distance between the West and Russia, American investments in increasingly aggressive NATO actions on the Russian border, and a possible closer rapprochement between Russia and China which is considered the greatest global threat by US.
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