MOSCOW, 21 Jun 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.
Summing up the results of the talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden in Geneva, we can say that the experts generally guessed the range of topics and the depth of their discussion.
Detailed agreements were not possible for a number of reasons, and in the exchange of views during the negotiations, it is important to see how much time was allocated to a particular issue. The presidents decided not to peddle their differences and did not squeeze each other’s pain points – this is a tactic, but behind it there is a strategic intention.
So, according to V. Putin, said at his final press conference, the topic of Ukraine’s accession to NATO “was touched upon in a smear, there is probably nothing to discuss here.” I.e., the parties practically did not talk about it, exchanging a repetition of previously voiced positions.
In fact, there is a lot to discuss here, but after Vladimir Putin made it clear on the eve of the summit what would happen if this topic continued to develop, the US decided not to go too far and not to use it for blackmail and bluff anymore. This would disrupt the entire US negotiating agenda – what kind of strategic security can there be if you continue to tease Russia with Ukraine’s entry into NATO?
After all, Russia’s response will not only be in Ukraine. The introduction of NATO into Ukraine (more precisely, instead of the entry of Ukraine into NATO) will entail such a widening of the spectrum of confrontation between Russia and the US, which Washington is not ready for.
Russia’s response will be in the Middle East, in Cuba, in cyberspace, in the Arctic, and in the Chinese (and therefore Taiwan) directions. If the US’s relations with the EU and Japan deteriorate, they do not need to be caught between a Russian hammer and a Chinese anvil. South Korea will not stand aside in its movement to unite with the North without the participation of the US. In Central Asia, Russia and China are stepping up anti-American activities. Turkey will become even more out of control, and US policy in Transcaucasia will face a crisis of vassal loyalty.
Such changes in the balance of power will certainly begin as a result of the adventure with the involvement of Ukraine in NATO. The configuration that will turn out in the end will lead to a crisis that may cost the power of the American administration that decides to do this. It will not be forgiven for putting the world on the brink of nuclear war and losing the geopolitical balance because of Ukraine.
In addition, all the trump cards laid out will be impossible to use in the future. The US will not be able to frighten Russia with a deterioration in relations, if it has already happened. Therefore, the Ukrainian case against NATO will be temporarily frozen. It will continue to be used to blackmail Russia, but the US will not be in a hurry to turn it into a casus belli. There is no military need for this, and the political one is not visible.
At the same time, NATO’s eastward expansion is a long-term and principled strategy. In the Baltic states, the alliance’s contingent will be increased. As soon as possible, the US will return to the issue of including Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. A pause in this movement does not mean that the US has abandoned such intentions in principle.
In the Arctic, Putin spoke about cooperation with the US, but this should be understood as a statement of the initial position, and all negotiations with the US on this case will be conducted from a position of strength. The word “cooperation” means hard positional bargaining. Russia will exchange recognition of the positions achieved by the US in the Arctic in exchange for recognition of the positions achieved by Russia. They will draw some demarcation lines, and the Arctic Council will not harshly attack each other. This is what all “cooperation” will come down to. But at least they won’t shoot, and that’s good.
On the topic of cybersecurity, Putin easily beat off all of Biden’s appeals, pointing out that most cyber attacks are carried out from the US and Canada, two Latin American countries and the United Kingdom. Russia is not on the list of countries where cyber attacks are carried out.
Putin and Biden exchanged signs of etiquette – they said a few complimentary words about each other. Journalists happily called it warming. In fact, this is just protocol politeness and creating an atmosphere for normal work. Biden is trying to show himself stronger in the US than Trump, who was reproached for not telling Putin what he disagrees with. Biden’s PR problems in the US do not impede Putin, and therefore the negotiations went smoothly.
Biden acknowledged that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreements for Ukraine, and this is a success of Russian diplomacy and a painful setback for Zelensky. After the summit, Biden and Zelensky will hold a bilateral meeting, where he will be assured that the US is definitely on their side. He will be comforted and told that one day Ukraine will definitely be in NATO.
But it is clear to everyone: the West will not now start a military conflict with Russia for the sake of Ukraine. The West is satisfied with the achieved degree of control of the Ukrainian establishment. Ukraine again failed to force the West to fight with Russia because of itself.
Putin was very precise about Navalny and Western NGOs. The US in 2017 called Russia an enemy. If Russia is the enemy, who are those whom America publicly supports in Russia? These are the enemies of Russia. A situation like the storming of the US Capitol in Russia will not be allowed. The situation surrounding the recognition of “Radio Svoboda” as a foreign agent was clarified. “Russia Today” and “Sputnik” in the US have long been registered in the status required by the US and are deprived of accreditation. Russia acted in response, and did nothing more than that.
The rhetoric of the presidents was like a game of tennis. The ball was passed to each other, but no one hit too hard. That’s not what we’re here for.
We managed to agree on the following issues:
1. Contact between Russia and the US will continue through the foreign ministries. To do this, the ambassadors will return to the capitals of both states and continue their work.
2. A range of issues of common interest has been drawn up.
3. A list of disagreements has been compiled to look for ways to overcome them in the future.
4. We agreed to work on the topic of the START Limitation Treaty and strategic security in the world. The parties have already begun to work out the provisions of this agreement.
5. Common approaches to arms control have been developed.
6. Defined tasks for actions to reduce risks.
I.e., what happened was predicted by the RUSSTRAT Institute on the eve of the meeting:
“a certain memorandum (an agreement of intent, which is used in the event of negotiation deadlocks) may be adopted. A number of general statements will be made… 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…
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 are outsiders, to discuss urgent issues. At this point, the potential of the summit will be exhausted.”
RUSSTRAT also made an assessment of three options for the results of the summit for the Russian side: “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.”
Vladimir Putin – this was noted by journalists – left the summit frankly satisfied. This can be understood: the achieved result was between the optimum program and the maximum program. The achieved positions have been consolidated, they have resisted pressure, and the atmosphere for further consolidation has been created and implemented in the memorandum. This is a complete fulfilment of the task, and although the sanctions have not been eased, any strengthening of them will now cause the entire package of agreements to stop.
For Biden, that would be a major setback. In this case, he will show himself either as weak, not controlling the process, or as being non-negotiable. The world will be thrown back to its original positions, the confrontation will drag the US into the most expensive scenario, and all the costs will go to Biden, and the bonuses to Trump. It will not be possible to entice Putin to negotiate a second time, and he will move so decisively towards China that the consequences of this will be felt by the US around the world.
The fact that the negotiations were held with an efficiency of more than 70% is a credit to those who prepared them. The “director” was collective – this includes the Presidential Administration, the Foreign Ministry, the intelligence agencies, the protocol service, the FSO, and President Putin himself with a staff of assistants and the Press Service. The work was done inconspicuously, but colossally. Home preparations were prepared carefully, there were no random impromptu events.
The US had an easier task – they did not have to wait for unpleasant surprises from Putin. In the absence of hostile attacks from the American side (as was the case with the Chinese delegation in Anchorage, which the Americans simply tried to lecture), we could not expect sharpness from the Russians. The Americans “rolled back the mandatory program” and got what they expected.
But all negotiations are important because after the signing of protocols and agreements, it is time to implement the agreements. And this is where the reality begins, full of surprises. The US very easily violates any agreements, believing that they are made in order to violate them at a favourable moment. The Russian diplomatic tradition is distinguished by the implementation of agreements, even to its own detriment.
Biden can take credit for an agreement with Putin. Moreover, judging by Obama, it is now distributed to American presidents in advance simply for their intentions. But the US did not try to drag Russia into the anti-Chinese alliance. They must have realised that they were going to fail here, and they just decided not to take any chances.
Elena Panina – Director of the RUSSTRAT Institute