Putin-Biden Summit: Factor analysis

MOSCOW, 17 Jun 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.


Context of negotiations

The meeting of the Presidents of Russia and the United States Putin and Biden in Switzerland on June 16 is due to the specifics of the current crisis in Russian-American relations and the heightened rivalry for global influence between the US, the EU, China and Russia.

Russia and the US have an acute conflict over the struggle for Eurasia, where in its European part the US, after the collapse of the USSR, felt like a monopoly hegemon, but in the last 10-15 years has faced the growing influence of Russia and China, claiming to change the rules of international relations and the redistribution of spheres of influence.

The European conflict between Russia and the US has clear areas: Ukraine, including the L/DPR problem; Crimea; main pipelines from Russia to Europe, especially the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; special relations with Germany and France with a claim to influence their foreign policy.

Separately, the competition between Russia and the US in the field of vaccine control is unfolding, where vaccination in the context of a pandemic has become a soft force of geopolitical influence.

Since the rivalry takes place in a dense information environment, there was a struggle in cyberspace, which determines the course of the information and psychological war, up to the influence on the outcome of the presidential elections in Russia and the US.

In addition to Europe, the US and Russia have a conflict of interests in the Middle East (Syria, Iran), the sharpest rivalry in South Asia and specifically in India, Central Asia and Transcaucasia.

The deepening strategic rivalry between the US and China makes Russia’s position critical for each of them. In the upcoming battle with Beijing, Washington seeks to isolate Moscow, while deterring it in all other directions. This is a policy from a position of strength, and excludes bargaining with Russia.

The US-China conflict determines the need for the US to negotiate with Russia and affects the negotiating positions of the parties. It is the conflict with China that most pushes the US to negotiate with Russia.

Given the current circumstances, the US is beginning a radical restructuring of its strategy, which includes changing the principles of the functioning of the American economy and moving into a tough and proactive foreign policy towards all allies and adversaries.

The US has started to copy Chinese methods of state aid to corporations responsible for technological leadership, strengthening centralised management of the economy. In foreign policy, America has withdrawn from the treaties that restrain military expansion and is increasing the projection of power along the entire perimeter of international relations.

In general, the US remains proactive, it begins a high-risk long-term strategy for aggravation, believing that holding the initiative, while in crisis, is the only way for them to maintain hegemony and prevent the strengthening of rivals.

Negotiation situation

The situation in which the parties meet is assessed as a conflict, where negotiations are held between rounds of escalation. However, the US is escalating not so much with Russia as with China, where Washington is openly preparing a provocation on the topic of Taiwan (see the report of the RUSSTRAT Institute “Assessing the likelihood and practical form of an armed conflict between the US and China”).

It was the possible prospect of a US-Chinese local war over Taiwan that motivated the Biden administration to invite Vladimir Putin for talks in Geneva.

The provocative escalation of the Taiwan issue on the part of the US is caused, first of all, by the fact that by 2030, the level of China’s naval power will not leave a chance for the US to win in this direction. Therefore, America is in a hurry, provoking a conflict over Taiwan, to change the political leadership of China.

In addition, the aggravation of relations between the US and China is dictated by the desire of China to quickly establish the production of semiconductors, using the regional proximity to the centres of their production – Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. This is not only a market of more than $10 billion, but also a base for China’s competitiveness in all knowledge-intensive areas.

The US is also extremely vulnerable to Chinese supplies in the field of medicines and rare earths. Therefore, the US is calculating the extent of its dependence on China-controlled supply chains, which, according to experts, means preparing for war.

Now the US is turning foreign trade into a strike force, cutting off China’s access to semiconductors. To do this, a technology centre is being created in Europe, where capacities from Taiwan and other Asian countries for the production of semiconductors inaccessible to China should be transferred. It is the creation of this technological centre in order to isolate China economically and politically that is Biden’s main motive in his negotiations with the EU, NATO and V. Putin.

Negotiating positions of the parties

The negotiations between V. Putin and J. Biden are a tough positional bargaining, which is dominated by power and manipulative negotiation models. With a series of military manoeuvres and harsh statements in the media on the eve of the summit, the US increased its leverage, putting pressure on Russia’s position and consolidating resources.

From the point of view of negotiations, this situation is classified as a negotiation war. The sides look at each other like soldiers from the trenches on the front line, and any defeat of one is the victory of the other. It is impossible to negotiate in such a situation.

Both sides have repeatedly stated that they consider the opponent to be the culprit of the situation. If you know that the conflict is resolved only when one of the parties (one or both) reconsider their original attitude to the cause of the conflict, then it becomes clear that the conflict will continue, since no one will change their position, where in positional bargaining they are deliberately overstated on each point in order to get real concessions from the enemy in exchange for their imaginary concessions. This is the specifics of positional bargaining, and such a negotiation model excludes partner approaches.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on the eve of the summit in Geneva that Biden does not intend to strengthen the friendship between the US and Russia and will not try to build a trusting relationship with V. Putin, but wants to look for common ground and interests. Biden intends to directly ask Putin about his opinion on those areas that may be of interest to the two countries. This is quite a likely vision of the goal of the negotiations by Washington. For Biden, it is all the more justified because Russia does not change its position under pressure from the US.

However, Biden will not have a monopoly on the formation of the agenda. Vladimir Putin will make his own adjustments and ask his own questions. Some of them can be predicted, and some are secret preparations (“A good question is expensive, it must be asked in time” – said Gleb Zheglov in the famous TV series). So the course of negotiations has only an outline, and each side will talk about what it is interested in, and improvisations are an integral part of the script.

How do Putin and Biden see the negotiation situation? To understand this, it is necessary to answer 6 questions.

1. What are the interests of the parties? (What do they want?)

The US has both manifest and non-manifest interests. Manifest: to get Russia to accept the agenda, the position of the justifying party, to suppress a set of accusations, demands, conditions and a demonstration of consolidation with the allies.

Non-manifest: a demonstration of the strength of the US and Biden both in the US and in the world. “US President Joe Biden said that he would make it clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that ‘America is back’. This statement was made by the politician, speaking to the military at the American base in the UK.” Biden repeated the same idea during his European tour.

Russia strives to: 1. The minimum program: to show force under pressure and at the same time, if not to reduce, then not to increase confrontationality. 2. The optimum program: to create an atmosphere favourable for consolidating the achieved positions. 3. The maximum program: to avoid involvement in the anti-Chinese plans of the US and to reduce the sanctions pressure.

2. How are the risks assessed? (What are they afraid of?)

The US fears a breakdown in negotiations with Russia, increased geopolitical loneliness (a quarrel with allies), seem weak and fail to achieve the goals of anti-Chinese consolidation.

Russia fears increased pressure, an escalation of the conflict with the US, interference in the transfer of power in Russia and involvement in the anti-Chinese campaign.

3. What are the resources of the parties?

Time: Russia has time, the US has an acute shortage of it.

Allies: The system of alliances built by the US (NATO and relations with the EU and the G7) is stronger than the system of alliances built by Russia (EEU, CSTO, BRICS, SCO and G20).

Finance: Russia’s dependence on the US dollar and commodity exports persists. In the US, the dollar is experiencing the pressure of the crisis, weakening as a means of accumulation and a means of payment.

Technology: the US being in first place is, in general, unquestionable.

Information: the US leads.

Influence in areas of national interest: the US generally controls Europe and some post-Soviet countries. Russia has taken a foothold in Syria and Venezuela, maintains positions in Cuba, and also in a number of countries of the former USSR.

Material resources: Russia is independent of the US, the US is independent of Russia.

Military potential: approximate parity within the framework of accepted national doctrines is maintained. The US dominates the sea, Russia maintains parity on land and is ahead of the US in hypersonic missile systems and electronic warfare.

4. What are the parties’ alternatives? (What will they do if they don’t agree?)

The US will continue the arms race and the total escalation of sanctions in the most severe scenario. Russia will be subject to environmental sanctions if its quota for CO2 emissions is reduced. They will make attempts to increase the destabilisation of Russia along the perimeter of its borders.

Russia will strengthen coordination with China and the promotion of Belarus’ integration. Within the country, actions against pro-Western forces will become tougher, and Western institutions of influence will be extremely restricted in their freedom of action in Russia.

5. Comparison of primary proposals. (How are the proposals of one side better than the proposals of the other side?)

The US, following Biden’s meeting with the leaders of the G7 countries, proposes to Russia to integrate into what they call “relevant international norms” and stop its “malicious actions” and “destabilising behaviour”. It is the imposition of one’s own vision of the situation through one’s own language and terminology.

Russia is required to stop restoring its influence in the post-Soviet space and beyond, to abandon the alliance with China and to oust the US from Europe by undermining the positions of pro-American forces in the governments of the EU countries.

Russia demands to recognise its sovereignty, national interests and the right to defend them in any space of the globe. Realising that Russia will be under increasing pressure through the environmental agenda, Russia seeks to take a leading position in this movement.

Moscow understands that it faces a warning about retaliatory actions from the West if it continues to try to restore influence in the post-Soviet space. This is what the West warns it about, drawing red lines. In response, Russia exposes red lines in Ukraine.

Given the fact that the scope of disagreements is too vast, and there is no possibility to inflict irreparable damage to the enemy by non-military means without collateral damage to oneself, there will be no concrete proposals and negotiations on them. The parties will limit themselves to expressing their initial positions, formulated in extremely ideologised terms, and adopt a memorandum on the expediency of continuing to search for a zone of possible agreement. And since ideology is values, and differences in values are not settled in negotiations, the voicing of initial proposals is a veiled exchange of ultimatums.

The fact is that negotiations do not achieve a change in the balance of forces. This change occurs by force through the escalation of the conflict and its passage through certain stages. At the moment, the balance of forces is unclear, it is mobile and changeable. When the result is visible, then it will be time for real negotiations.

Now the negotiations between the US and Russia are a screen for a military confrontation and a way to consolidate the resource. Therefore, no real proposals are received.

6. Team analysis (Team strength and role distribution).

There is a conflict of the leader status in both teams. There are no disagreements in the Russian team, in this sense it is stronger. There is a conflict of legionnaires in the US team (Biden is not the leader, and the leader is not Biden). There is a struggle for influence over who influences Biden.

Structure of the negotiation team

Negotiations are a team activity, even when they meet one-to-one. If the team members are not at the negotiating table, then they are behind the scenes, and the one who has the best team always wins.

Any negotiation team includes a Leader, Director, Expert, Analyst, and Scout, whether these functions are assigned to groups or individual performers. But in any team configuration, there is always one leader. Its goals are the goals of negotiations. They are the banner of each side, and the main attack is on them. Demolishing or recruiting a leader means winning the negotiations or interrupting them to replace him/her with the negotiating client.

That is precisely why the first task of each negotiation team is to determine who is who in these negotiations. The leader in the opposing team can be the ceremonial bystander. And the real leader will be some kind of secretary or expert, sitting silently and handing papers, fountain pens or glasses of water.

In the situation of the Putin-Biden summit, such a negotiation conflict arises. At first, it was said that the presidents would meet face-to-face, and then there would be talks with the participation of aides and experts. Ambassadors were supposed to participate, but then they were replaced by foreign ministers. And before the summit, it was stated that Biden will always be next to A. Blinken, the head of the US State Department.

It is clear that from the very beginning, Blinken is put next to Biden not to help, but to control his behaviour. Blinken isn’t just looking after “sleepy Joe”. In this situation, he is the real leader of the US negotiating team. And Biden is a figurehead, an institutional, formal leader.

But there is a dissonance: as the actual leader of the US negotiating team, Blinken is equal in status to Lavrov, but not to Putin, the real leader of the Russian team. The foreign ministers at this meeting have the status of experts and heads of expert groups. Therefore, if Putin addresses Blinken as an equal leader, he will not only violate the table of ranks, but also build in the wrong communication model, because you don’t have to work with Blinken the way you work with Biden. Here we need a different model of argumentation and, in general, of all negotiation behaviour.

Therefore, Putin will address Blinken, formally addressing Biden. This is inconvenient, as it dissipates the energy focus on the leader and interferes with negotiations. You’re not really talking to the decision maker. And with those who are the decision maker, you don’t speak in the same way or you should not speak at all.

The leader’s status is a feature of these negotiations. I must say that with all the colossal negotiating experience of V. Putin, this is the first time he finds himself in such a situation. Previously, all of his counterparts were the real leaders of the negotiation teams. There should be no illusions about Biden’s powers at this summit, and the real leader there is lower in status than the leader from Russia.

Psychological portrait of the leaders of the negotiation teams

The conflict between Russia and the US is comprehensive, it is not only a conflict of corporations (business interests), deep elite ruling groups (conflict of clients), establishment teams (including the internal conflict in each team between the so-called “hawks” and “doves”, or “conflict of legionnaires”), but also a conflict of character of the presidents.

The similarity of the characteristics (psychological radicals) of Biden and Putin has a certain area of overlap, which will affect their negotiations. They both have restrained facial expressions, precision and functionality in their gestures, they try to subdue the space in which they are, they set clear rules. Both of them know how to do it, and their words sound instructive.

At the same time, Putin has the qualities that Biden does not have. He is specific in raising questions, speaks clearly and to the point yet can use slang (“whack in the toilet”).

Matrix of the forecast of the behaviour of the presidents of Russia and the US at the negotiations

1. Both have high stress tolerance.

2. The type of nervous system is different. Biden’s is weak, Putin’s is strong.

3. Energy level (time of negotiations): Biden’s is average, unstable. No more than 1.5 hours, during this time is able to discuss no more than 2-3 questions. This is 30 minutes for each question (provided that each of them requires three rounds of negotiations of 4-6 hours each).

Putin has a high level of energy – he is able to work in negotiations for more than 4 hours (remember the 16-hour marathon in Minsk on the topic of Ukraine).

4. The emphasis of interests is different. Biden – on risks and security (recall the agenda of the meeting formulated in the US), Putin – on opportunities and achieving results (anti-sanctions argumentation).

5. The focus of attention is the same for both: on oneself (self-control), on the process and control over it.

6. The willingness to take responsibility for their decisions varies. Biden is ready, but he needs to be monitored. Putin is completely ready, even aspires to take a proactive position (the attitude of Putin and Biden to the Open Skies Treaty).

7. The style of negotiation is similar for both: mixed, a combination of power and manipulative models. Batch linking of questions is practiced.

The differences between Putin and Biden affect their negotiations.

Biden, by virtue of the traditions of American presidents, already has a sufficient share of theatricality, affectation, mannerism, posturing. He is demonstrative (a hysteroid radical). A radio-style communicator: he talks, but he doesn’t listen to anyone.

Putin is completely devoid of these properties, because of his mental makeup, his past profession, and because of the traditions of Russian political culture. Putin is a much better communicator than Biden, perhaps also for the above reasons.

Putin has a much higher efficiency, he is ready to negotiate for hours if the topic is interesting to him. He will listen as long as the proposal is valuable to him. Since nothing like this is expected from Biden at the talks, Putin’s talent for deep and active listening is hardly useful.

If Putin is interested in the proposal, he will ask a lot of clarifying questions, in breadth and depth of the topic. He perceives a sentence when it is built logically, supported by figures, graphs, forecasts, and research. He feels the lie subtly, will find an approach to any person. Never raises his voice, is able to get along with any team, which indicates a flexible and stable psyche.

According to the psychotype, Putin is a fighter, but he will not opt for a confrontation himself, but will act within the framework of the law (the cases of Crimea, Donbass, the crisis in Belarus, sanctions, non-systemic opposition). Biden is a typical fruit of the American nomenclature, who grew up in the depths of its hierarchy and in this completely similar to his colleagues in Europe. He is not a leader or a fighter, but a collective image of the American career bureaucrat.

But there is another leader in these negotiations – Blinken. His information should also be taken into account. He is also a career bureaucrat. Blinken has a desire for caution, order, perfectionism and attention to detail, organisation and a desire for control over the process. He clearly follows his competencies and strives to define them accurately.

The lack of clear regulations and clear evaluation criteria are demotivators for him, knocking him out of balance. If to develop an attack on him as a leader, it is necessary to use it. The fact is that Blinken, unlike Biden and Putin, is a highly developed anxiety radical. This is the second such US Secretary of State in recent times, the first being Condoleezza Rice.

An anxiety radical in the structure of the psyche is a conservative beginning, increased anxiety, constant anxiety, fear of everything new. If we compare the parameters of Putin and Blinken, who will also be constantly hindered by Biden, then we will get two weak energy negotiators from the US against one strong one from Russia.

Negotiation scenario

Biden’s negotiations with his G7 and NATO allies, and then with Putin – are a struggle for discourse, for the dominance of political language imposed on those who claim to seize the initiative. It is more important for Biden not to agree, but to teach everyone to use his words in assessing Russia and Putin, China and Xi Jinping.

A negotiation tour is an opportunity to repeatedly repeat their cliches, which carry a propaganda and value load and are repeated many times by the world’s liberal media. The negotiations with Putin are largely an excuse to launch a powerful propaganda campaign against Russia, conducted in the terminology of the US.

With regard to the course of the negotiations themselves, it is clear that each topic on the agenda, due to the lack of time and breadth of content, can only be touched upon in passing. Biden will survive only two or three rounds of an hour and a half, then his condition will fall sharply.

In order to hide this, the negotiations include the format of a meeting of foreign ministers (teams of experts). They will fill in the time, and at the end of the summit, each of the leaders will separately answer questions from journalists, and a certain memorandum (an agreement of intent used in the event of negotiation deadlocks) can be adopted.

Results of the negotiations

The parties will express their satisfaction with the fact and the progress of the negotiations, emphasising that they are ready to cooperate, but subject to the constructive behaviour of the partners. I must say that from Biden’s point of view, the very fact of negotiations is not a prize, as it was in the eyes of Trump. Biden doesn’t see the negotiations as encouraging or showing weakness. This is a working tool for him, he is an old negotiator, and therefore he is ready to talk to anyone if it is beneficial for his idea.

If to understand that the goals of the parties are to study each other’s positions and intentions, then the results of the negotiations will be agreements that do not require concessions and a long struggle for each letter. These are climate issues, the need for humanitarian assistance to Syria, cooperation on cybercrime issues, and the desirability of arms control.

A number of general statements will be made on the topic of vaccination and the fight against coronavirus. The US demands an investigation into its cause (pressure on China), and Russia will reject this idea. They will touch on the problems of the Arctic, Europe, Nord Stream-2, Ukraine, Iran, and sanctions. Each side will present its own interpretation of the security problem, the general rules of conduct, and its assessment of the opponent’s actions.

The demonstration of intransigence will be accepted in the US and Russia as a sign of the strength of their presidents. But the parties meet not only to compete in stubbornness. In the non-public part, the negotiations will concern the very red lines and the actions of the parties in the event of a threat to cross them.

Most likely, they will discuss the work of informal communication channels that allow to quickly – and without involving people who are hungry for popularity, but outsiders – to discuss urgent issues. At this point, the potential of the summit will be exhausted, and the conflict between Russia and the US will move to the next round of escalation.

The problem is that Russia does not want to completely isolate itself from the world dominated by the US, nor to join this world on their terms. Russia is looking for a balance when economic and political resources are insufficient. The US wants to swallow all the countries of the world, and this is their only goal. Negotiations in this scenario on the part of the US can be anything but a desire to negotiate.

The area of possible agreement covers important but secondary issues. That does not exclude the usefulness of solving these issues and creating reserves for the future. When the balance of power changes, these reserves will help formalise a new reality.

Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT


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