The Biden-Putin Summit
Towards a more predictable relationship: outcomes of the 2021 Biden-Putin summit
Our previous report detailed the verbal confrontation between President Biden and President Putin that took place in mid-March of 2021, and discussed how a relationship fraught with mutual accusations would impact the future of the U.S.-Russian cooperation. As, after this incident, both sides had described their relations as hitting rock bottom, the whole world awaited the first ever summit meeting between the two leaders in Geneva, Switzerland.
Prior to the meeting, asked if Biden and Putin would dine together, one senior U.S. official declared that there would be “no breaking of bread.” Indeed, the U.S. president arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday, June 15th, while President Putin flew in the country the following day, right before the official start of the event. The closed-door meeting between the two lasted less than expected (less than four hours). Both leaders, however, emerged from the summit with similar assessments: Putin deemed it “constructive” and Biden called it “positive.” So what did the U.S. and Russian presidents agree on?
- To resolve the issue with ambassadors. Following the confrontation between the two leaders in March, the Russian ambassador to Washington was recalled, while the U.S. envoy to Moscow, John Sullivan, returned to the States. After the Geneva talks, however, both are allowed to resume their respective diplomatic missions.
- To work together to reduce the risks of armed conflicts and nuclear war. Following the Biden-Putin meeting, the White House issued a joint American-Russian statement, which reiterated the presidents’ commitment to ensuring stability and predictability in the world by working together towards decreasing chances of armed conflicts and nuclear war. The latter has already been exemplified by the extension of the New START Treaty. Additionally, according to the joint statement, Washington and Moscow will begin a bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the near future, aimed at developing arms control reduction mechanisms.
- To consider Russia a great power. When Biden and Putin sat down for talks, Biden, in stark contrast with the statements made by his predecessors, referred to Russia and the United States as “two great powers.” Even former President Barack Obama, who had sought to reset relations with Moscow, described it as a “regional power.” According to CNN’s Kevin Liptak, by choosing this wording and elevating Russia’s status from a regional to a great power, Biden “seemed to be making the point that leaders of large, important countries must find ways to deal with each other, even amid their differences.”
However, differences do exist and cannot be disregarded. Here are the most notable ones:
- Ensuring protection of human rights. According to President Biden, during his meeting with President Putin, he raised an issue of wrongful imprisonment in Russia, including politician Alexei Navalny. “How could I be the president of the United States of America and not speak out against the violation of human rights? I told him [Putin] that unlike other countries, including Russia, we’re uniquely a product of an idea,” Biden said in an interview with the press. Putin, however, showed disinterest towards the jailed opposition leader.
- The case of Ukraine. President Biden also raised concern with regard to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty at the summit, following the most recent deployment of Russian troops near the country’s border in April of 2021. In response, President Putin, who regards Ukraine as his backyard, criticized the “bloody coup” of 2014 (i.e. the famous Euromaidan), believing it to be orchestrated by the United States.
- Russia’s interference in U.S. presidential elections. In March 2021, Washington declassified an intelligence report, which provided evidence that Moscow had, once again, interfered in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections by disseminating false information regarding Biden with an aim to boost Trump’s re-election. When this case was brought to Putin’s attention in Geneva, he denied all the allegations, suggesting that the Kremlin had never been involved in cyber-hacking and disinformation campaigns concerning the U.S. elections.
Overall, considering the above topics of both agreement and disagreement, how can the Biden-Putin summit be evaluated? According to Dr. Angela Stent, Director of CERES, Biden came into office with a goal to establish stable and predictable relations with Moscow so that “the U.S. wouldn’t have to spend so much time responding to escalatory moves from Russia, to putting fires out that emanated from Russia, and essentially that the administration could focus on its main foreign policy challenge, which, of course, is China.” Dr. Stent noted that President Biden attended the summit with the same goal in mind, “and, judging from what we’ve heard from both press conferences today, I think they achieved that,” she added.
With the long-awaited meeting now being concluded, only time will tell us if the 2021 Geneva Summit becomes a guarantor of stability and predictability in U.S.-Russian relations, as well as in a larger region of Eurasia. For a more detailed account of the event, you can visit the pages listed below.
Prepared by Tina Dolbaia
Biden-Putin summit: US and Russian leaders meet for tense Geneva talks (2021, June 16). BBC. Retrieved on June 24, 2021, from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57494283
Dolbaia, T. (May 2021). Offensive or defensive? Interpreting Russia’s military build-up near the Ukrainian border. CERES. Retrieved from: https://ceres.georgetown.edu/research/student-projects/the-ukrainian-border/
Dolbaia, T. (April 2021). Biden vs. Putin: Will the Verbal Confrontation between the Two Presidents Impact the Future of U.S.-Russia Relations? CERES. Retrieved from: https://ceres.georgetown.edu/research/student-projects/biden-vs-putin/
Harding, L. (2021, June 16). Five things we learned from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jun/16/five-things-we-learned-from-the-biden-putin-summit-in-geneva
Keith, T. (2021, June 16). Biden And Putin Say Their Summit Was Constructive As The World Waits For Results. NPR. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2021/06/16/1005679092/what-you-need-to-know-about-bidens-meeting-with-putin
Khurshudyan, I., Wagner, J., Itkowitz, C., Scott, E. & Wang. A. (2021, June 16). Biden, Putin hold ‘positive’ summit but divisions remain over human rights, cyberattacks, Ukraine. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/06/16/biden-putin-live-updates/
Liptak, K. (2021, June 17). 5 takeaways from the summit between Biden and Putin. CNN. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/16/politics/takeaways-from-biden-and-putin-summit/index.html
Stent, A. & Pita, A. (2021, June 17). What did the Biden-Putin summit do for US-Russian relations? [Podcast]. Brookings. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/podcast-episode/what-did-the-biden-putin-summit-do-for-us-russian-relations/
U.S.-Russia Presidential Joint Statement on Strategic Stability (2021, June 16). The White House. Retrieved on June 24, 2021, from: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/06/16/u-s-russia-presidential-joint-statement-on-strategic-stability/