On June 16 the Presidents of Russia and the United States will hold talks:
Biden ends the trip Wednesday with summit in Geneva with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The White House announced Saturday that the leaders will not hold a joint news conference after meeting, removing the opportunity for comparisons to the availability that followed Trump and Putin’s 2018 Helsinki summit in which Trump sided with Moscow over his own intelligence agencies.
Aides have suggested that the U.S. did not want to elevate Putin further by having the two men appear together in such a format. Others have expressed concern that Putin could try to score points on Biden, 78, who will be in the final hours of a grueling eight-day European trip.
The real reason for not holding a joint press conference is of course that a senile Biden is likely to brabble some nonsense and ruin the summit spin his minders want to put out there.
The U.S. initiated the summit which comes early in Biden’s presidency. The not yet answered question is why, and what the U.S. wants to achieve with it?
The short answer, discussed in length below, is that:
- The U.S. wants to take on China. The U.S. recognized that it can not take on China and Russia simultaneously. Russia must thus be split from its China alliance and brought back into Europe.
- Russia’s new strategic weapon systems may enable a first strike on the U.S. A new strategic arms agreement is the only way to avert that existential threat. (It would also save a lot of money.)
Both of these strategic aims are unlikely to get achieved because the U.S. foreign policy community is still misjudging the global situation as well as Russia’s strength and position. It wants the summit to fail.
Now the long version.
In an essay published on his email list Prof. Michael Brenner, a regular reader of Moon of Alabama, gives his answer to our questions:
Biden, long the absentee overseer of Ukraine under Obama, backed a plan to put an end to the secessionist, Russified provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk in the Donbass. It was seen as a way to discipline Vladimir Putin whose interference in Syria and blood-minded actions elsewhere irritated American policy-makers, to complete Russia’s isolation (along with an overthrow of the Belarus government), and to solidify NATO/EU control of the European continent.
Washington expanded its program of arming and training the Ukrainian army arm and militias (including the neo-Nazi Azov battalion), gave President (and ex-comedian) President Vladimir Zielenski the green light to move his military to the contact line, and led an orchestrated denunciation of Russia and all its work loudly reinforced by the ever-obedient chorus of European dependents. Biden himself struck the tone in declaring that Putin was a ‘killer.’ It was classic coercion via military intimidation – although hardly classic in insulting your opponent unless you follow up with a bugle call for attack. The entire project is now in ruins – a miserable failure. The ‘why’ carries heavy – if unrecognized – lessons.
The Kremlin had given clear signs that it no longer was going to turn the other cheek to what it saw as hostile, belittling Western moves. The eastward expansion of NATO right to Russia’s border, the Washington approved Georgian assault on South Ossetia by American trained/advised forces, the color revolutions culminating in the American instigated Nuland coup in Kiev that toppled a democratically elected President, undocumented accusations of meddling in the tranquil waters of American politics, the repeated sanctions, the relentless campaign to sabotage Nordstrom II etc. etc. Those clear signs were ignored, as are all other facts that don’t conform with the self-serving, self-deluding Washington narrative. There, gross misinterpretations of conditions in Russia prevail.
They truly believe that Navalny is the country’s great white hope when in truth his modest support lies only among the liberal intelligensia of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Putin’s popularity, especially in regard to relations with the West, is undiminished. The public fully backs Putin. Moreover, he is at the ’soft’ end of a continuum among political elites – including officials within his government. Hence, his response to the renewed threat to the Donbass was quick and decisive. He deployed 75,000 heavily armed army units with supporting air power to the border while Lavrov stated baldly that any offensive by the Ukrainians would be met with overwhelming force, and that would mean the destruction of the current Ukrainian regime.
The call up of a five divisions strong battle ready force within 10 days, which NATO is unable to match in size and speed, had the desired effects:
The United States and its allies had no counter; they had to back down. Within days, Biden made an impromptu call to ‘killer’ Putin calling for a relaxing of tensions while looking forward to stable, predictable relations between their two countries. That week, Blinken flew to Kiev to bluntly tell Zelenski to call it all off. If that meant throwing him to the ultra-nationalist wolves in Kiev, he always had his comedian gig to fall back on. Great power politics as burlesque!
There was a dawning awareness that contending with a fully aroused Russia, in Europe and elsewhere, was no piece of cake. It followed that the United States should not be conducting all-out ‘Cold War’ with China and Russia simultaneously. Since China was the much greater challenger to American global hegemony, somehow working out a tacit modus vivendi, or, at least, ceasefire, with Moscow was called for. That should have been obvious for at least the past 12 years to anyone with a strategic brain. Instead, American leaders had done everything possible to solidify a Sino-Russian alliance as has materialized in their ‘strategic partnership’ which grows in strength and confidence by the day.
The abject failure in Ukraine (simultaneously with the thwarted attempt to overthrow Lukashenko in Belarus) shook Washington’s unbounded self-confidence enough for it to recognize the error of its ways.
A series of moves in Europe signaled the intention to change course. The announced dispatch of a naval battle group to the Black Sea was summarily cancelled, pressure on Germany to prevent the completion of Nordstrom II was lifted, and the plans for a Ukrainian attack on the Donbass was abruptly dumped. Biden clearly intends next week’s meeting with Putin in Geneva as a crucial step paving the way for a tempering of the hostility that has marked relations between Washington and Moscow. The hope is that the gestures noted above combined with an expressed readiness to work together on handful of contentious issues can mollify Russian antagonism toward the West. That, in turn, could cool its enthusiasm for the strategic partnership with Beijing – making it easier for the U.S. to concentrate on its struggle for global supremacy with China while weakening the latter’s hand.
The ploy is doomed to failure.
It indeed is. The last 30 years have shown that Russia can absolutely not trust Washington whatever it might promise. Its partnership with China though is solid.
A quote in a recent New York Times piece seems to confirm Brenner’s take:
Charles A. Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University who worked on European affairs in the Obama administration, said Mr. Biden’s goal was to head off the creation of a Sino-Russian bloc against the West. That will require the help of allies, which is why he predicted Mr. Biden would not only listen to, but hear, the Europeans.
Russia analyst Gilbert Doctorow has a slightly different take:
[W]hy is Joe Biden pressing ahead with a meeting so early in his tenure in office? We are told that the objective is to achieve “greater stability” in bilateral relations. But I have not heard from our commentators what stability is to be addressed.
In my reductionist approach, the summit has one driver behind it, namely to put a cap on an arms race that the United States is losing, if it has not already irrevocably lost, and to prevent the adverse shift in the strategic balance against America from getting still worse. The side benefit would be to strike down planned military expenditures budgeted for well over a trillion dollars to modernize the nuclear triad alone. This would thereby free funds for the massive infrastructure investments that Biden is presently trying to push through Congress.
Since the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty in 2002 under George Bush, US policy had aimed at enabling a first strike knocking out Russian ICBMs and then rendering useless Russia’s residual nuclear forces which could be shot out of the air by U.S. anti-ballistic missile systems. Russia’s new, maneuverable and ultra-high speed missiles could evade all known ABMs. According to Putin’s text in March 2018, the new Russian strategic arms relegated the hundreds of billions that the Americans had invested in achieving superiority to the status of a modern day Maginot Line. Whatever Washington could throw at Russia, the residual Russian forces would penetrate American defenses and wreak havoc on the American homeland.
Russia’s new weapons are something that Washington can only dream of. Announced in 2018 the new systems are now being introduced in frontline units. U.S. weapon development is at least 10 years behind Russia’s. Nuclear parity has been restored (vid).
Some of Russia’s new system do not fall under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. If the U.S. does not manage to achieve a new agreement with Russia that limits its new weapon systems, Russia could soon achieve first strike capability. This would be an existential threat to the U.S. The Pentagon is surely not happy about the situation.
That Biden needs to get a new strategic arms agreement as fast as possible may indeed be the reason why the summit is happening so early.
Unfortunately a success, says Doctorow, is far from guaranteed:
Mutual respect is what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has demanded as a starting point for diplomatic negotiations with the Americans. Respect is not conferred on an interlocutor “from a position of strength,” the typical American approach to such talks.
The problem for Washington is that no one on Capitol Hill or in the foreign policy community wants to acknowledge the obvious facts about Russia today. Everyone is happy with the vision of a slovenly, chaotic Russia ruled by a merciless dictator, whose regime is fragile and just needs a little push, like Nicholas II’s autocracy, to tilt over and collapse. This is rubbish and if it remains the foundation of U.S. policy towards Russia under Biden then we can expect nothing much to happen to reduce the dangers of nuclear war or move towards calmer waters in international relations.
An example of the foreign policy community Doctorow describes is the former U.S. ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker who wants the summit to fail:
It is surely not in the interests of the U.S., the EU, NATO, and other allies to see a summit in which Putin leaves convinced that he has blunted the United States and faces no consequences for his behavior. It would send a signal globally that authoritarians can get away with aggressive acts at home and abroad, and that the U.S. and the West will not take any meaningful action to stop them.
For the U.S., therefore, the best possible outcome is not one of modest agreements and a commitment to “predictability,” but one of a lack of agreements altogether. Success is confrontation.
The Canadian professor Paul Robinson takes aim at such lunacy but concludes:
Now, you might say that this is just one guy’s opinion. We can ignore it. It doesn’t mean anything. But Volker isn’t just some guy. From 2017 to 2019, he was the US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations – so in effect America’s point guy for its relationship with Ukraine and for negotiations concerning a peace settlement for that country’s civil war. On the basis of this article, one shudders to think what advice he was giving the Ukrainian government. Certainly not advice conducive to peace, I imagine. It’s more than a little scary.
So, this is more than just one man. This article is a window into the way that an influential part of the American foreign policy establishment thinks. It rejects negotiation. It regards compromise as dangerous. It openly prefers conflict. “Success is confrontation” – the worse the better. Wow!
As long as they help to prevent war I am happy about each and every summit between superpowers. But I do not expect any great results from this one. U.S. policies do not turn on a dime and the borg is currently far from accepting compromises to which Russia can agree.
Originally published (Moon of Alabama)