Great Expectations?? Nah! Why we need to be “realistic” about the Biden Putin Summit

Photo by Don Fontijn on Unsplash

A Weary and Wary Participants Gather to Meet

In less than 24 hours, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, will be meeting his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva. While it is natural to have “great expectations” from such a “pivotal” summit, especially at a time when the “dark clouds” of the Cold War seem to be returning, one must look askance at any “breakthrough” from such a meeting. Given the rather deteriorating relations between these two superpowers (of course, one must add “ex” to Russia, however much its citizens, and more importantly, its rulers, believe that they deserve the honorific), a modest appraisal is needed for any possible “outcomes”. Indeed, going by the latest news, it seems as though the prospect of the two presidents appearing in a joint press conference, is also remote.

Having said that, there is a “silver lining” in the form of a weary and wary “acceptance” of the “new realities” that dictate the terms between the US and Russia. The bottomline is that despite the mutual animosity between Biden and Putin (remember, the former had called the latter a “killer” not long ago), there is a need to engage with each other, if not for anything, just for the fact that both are Nuclear Armed and have considerable “sway” over many countries, even in this age of a “fractured world”, where multiple “power centers” have emerged from the “ruins” of the Cold War. In addition, the very prospect of a summit should be welcomed, given Putin’s “preference” for Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, and the alleged “interference” and “meddling” in the Presidential Elections of the US.

Why Europe and more Importantly, Ukraine figure Prominently

Moreover, each needs the other just as much as they need the “support” of the broader European community, more so since Ukraine has emerged as a “flashpoint” in the relations between the US and Russia. With allegations and counter allegations flying, one needs to get a “handle” on how this issue and the other “sticking points”, such as China have to be dealt with. Indeed, the US and more importantly, Biden, cannot afford to “pick fights” with both Russia and China at the same time, a fact that has been duly noted by Putin and being used as a “leverage” in his outreach to the West.

Why the Middle East would never “Go Away”

However much Biden would like to “disentangle” the US from the Middle East, the volatile region would predominate in any American Presidential Agenda, not only because of oil, but also because it is too important for world stability not to let regional conflicts flare up beyond a point. Think what happened in the recent Israeli-Palestinian clash, and how Syria manages to hog the headlines, despite the US, under Biden, trying its best to “stay out” of the Middle East’s “internecine” conflicts. Indeed, even the Afghanistan “question” needs active cooperation with Putin in a post American withdrawal era.

What about the Cyber Criminals and the Poisoners ?

On the other hand, a majority of the American populace is angered and rightly so, by the increasing number of Cyber attacks and Cyber Crime incidents targeting businesses and individuals alike, and thought to be driven by Kremlin sponsored state and non state actors. Above anything else, this issue is likely to dominate the proceedings when Biden and Putin meet, and it remains to be seen as to how the talks go in this regard. Both Biden and Putin have their “domestic bases” to appease and hence, nothing substantial can be expected with the former accusing and the latter denying any such connections. So, watch out for the “reading” from the summit on how this problem is mentioned.

Apart from the geopolitical issues, another factor that would be playing on the minds of the participants is the alleged involvement of Russians in the numerous “poisonings” of dissidents and ex spies over the last so many years. This issue has inflamed the West and incensed so many Americans and Europeans alike that just the mere mention of “nerve agents” throws many into paroxysms of anger. So, despite all the “nervousness” about such clearly criminal endeavors, Biden does not have a choice, but to bring this up in the conversations with Putin.

Watch out for the Body Language

With so many “flaming” and “thorny” problems, my guess is that the Summit would just end with a restatement of the concerns by both sides, and any plausible outcomes would mainly be posturing by either with nothing substantial for neither. Watch out for the Body Language of Biden and Putin and you might get more “answers” than the Joint Communiques of the participants. So, here’s what I think would happen and I welcome your thoughts on how the Meeting would go as well as a further followup post the talks.


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