As is commonly known, Presidents Biden and Putin recently held their summit in Geneva. Unfortunately I had a bad case of bronchitis and could not watch everything. I would watch as much as I had the strength for, then read what transcripts and articles I could. I would read for short periods, take a break and resume reading. I also watched a number of news clips from America. Most of those focused on how Biden “stood up” to Putin.
The Western press really didn’t get much into the specific issues discussed in the summit. The interpretations I saw from America of how Biden did broke down pretty much along party lines. The MSM, with a few exceptions, tried to put the best light possible on how Biden performed vis-a-vis Putin. The majority of commentators I saw on FOXNEWS took the other position—Putin dominated Biden. To what degree they were successful in moving toward the goal to “develop stable and predictable relations” between the two countries got lost in the partisan political noise I fear. When FOX called in Mike Pompeo as their foreign policy expert I knew not much in the way of deep analysis was going to happen. I think a lot of my American readers will agree with me that newscasts today have lost the focus on “just the facts.” Each talking head feels free to inject her or his own presuppositions and views into the conversation—whether that “journalist” knows anything at all about Russia or not.
Therefore I’ll set forth a few basic points about how the summit looked to this American living in small town Russia. I’ll give a summary of what I believe was positive about their meeting and what was disappointing. I admit these are my opinions. I guess that is why one writes a blog to some degree. Nevertheless, I am aware that there are many articles analyzing the summit in greater detail and with more expertise than I, so at the end of this blog entry I’ll provide links to a few articles by Russia specialists I have come to respect. I’ll add brief comments explaining the focus of each article.
A little background. The summit was requested by President Biden. The request came shortly after NATO sent out an alarm that it had discovered that Russia was conducting a massive buildup of combat ready troops near the Ukrainian border. Russian Defense Minister Shoigu stated openly that yes that was true. He said Russia was doing nothing in secret. Russia had deployed two armies and three airborne units in close proximity to the Russian/Ukrainian border. Russia was preparing for battle if Ukraine and the West continued to push for conflict. He also told the Americans he could not guarantee the security of their two ships entering the Black Sea. NATO and the U.S. backed down, the ships turned around, and the “Ukrainian crisis” subsided. Shortly thereafter Biden requested a summit with Putin. In general I think everyone agreed that, as forecasted, there were no major breakthroughs, developments or announcements as a result of the summit.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE SUMMIT
First, they agreed that the Russian and American ambassadors would return to their respective embassies, and there would be resumption of normal consular functioning. For some folks this was viewed largely as a symbolic step I suppose, but for those of us who live abroad it is unsettling when the embassy is not fully staffed. I also think having the ambassador present to communicate directly with the foreign government is very important. That is one of the main functions of an embassy. After the summit there was an announcement that regular, albeit limited, flights would resume between Russia and America. The borders between the two countries will open June 28. People still cannot get visas right now, but TASS reported the embassies are beginning conversations on the policies of issuing visas.
Second, there was agreement that negotiations will begin on the new START treaty. A general desire for reduction of weapons is a good thing in my opinion. They made reference to the statement by Reagan and Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never by won and should never be fought.”
More than that, however, I gathered from some of the comments by American advisers that there finally seems to be an awareness among American team members of the advances that Russia has made in its weapons systems—both offensive and defensive. They know that Russia has hypersonic missiles that can evade all the American ABM systems. The reference to Russia as “a regional power” by Barack Obama and others will hopefully be thrown in the dustbin sometime soon.
Also, related to this point an “unnamed source” from within Biden’s circle of advisors acknowledged the fear that Russia and China will work together on military matters in the future, and they consider this very dangerous. Ray McGovern has stated that while there is nothing official, Russia and China have a “virtual military alliance.” The U.S. would do well to consider the ramifications of that alliance. The simple fact that the U.S. team maybe—just maybe—realizes that open conflict with Russia might not go well for them is a positive step in curtailing America’s military aggression.
NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF THE SUMMIT.
In general I would say the disappointing aspects of the summit for me were primarily related to the language that was used by the Americans. There was still a condescending tone in much of what Biden and others said. On June 10 he gave a rousing speech in the UK declaring “the U.S. is back,” and defiantly promised he was going to tell Putin “what I want him to know.” America is unwilling to recognize Russia as a country with equal nation status. Fortunately President Putin takes all this American hubris in stride. On June 4 at a forum in St. Petersburg he said, “Russia-U.S. relations have become hostage to the internal political processes that are taking place in the United States.”
Biden is still to some degree stuck in the mentality of his former boss Obama. The U.S. is THE “exceptional and indispensable” nation in the world. Again to borrow from Ray McGovern, the opposite of “indispensable” is “dispensable.” There is a limit to what can be achieved in international relations as long as America regards other nations as dispensable and unexceptional. Putin responded to this attitude in his post summit conference: “It’s just that when a person says that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, with special, exclusive rights to practically the entire world, I cannot go along with that. God created us all equal and gave us equal rights.” Quite ironic that the Russian president lectured America on his belief that God created us equal and gave us all certain equal rights.
The Americans continued to insist that Russia must accept a “ruled based international order.” As Caitlin Johnson recently wrote, what they really mean is a “Washington-Based International Order.” The problem is there are plenty of international laws already in place, and America does not believe it has to submit to them. For example, recent documents have revealed that after confiscating an Iranian tanker, the US sold around 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil the tanker contained. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/us-sells-off-iranian-crude-oil-seized-off-77997885. The American government wants to set the rules for this orderly system to which other countries must submit, but believes it has the right to steal a tanker of oil and then keep the profits from the sale of its contents. From listening to Putin and others on his diplomatic team, there will not be any major breakthroughs until the U.S. surrenders what it perceives to be its place as leader and commander of the world.
Second, some of Biden’s statements left one wondering if he was terribly uninformed, extremely forgetful, or both. He criticized Russia for interfering in the elections of other nations. He stated, “The U.S. never interferes in other countries elections.” He then asked rhetorically, “How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it?”
In the five years I’ve been writing this blog the highest readership by far came from two blogs I did in January of 2018 responding to an article by Joe Biden and Michael Carpenter in Foreign Affairs magazine. A number of online sites ran those two blogs. I detailed the fallacies in the FA article. I also included a discussion of the July 15, 1996 cover story in Time magazine titled, “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisors Helped Yeltsin Win.” The article discussed the “open secret” of how President Clinton sent a cadre of highly paid American advisors (pretending to be antennae salesmen) and plenty of IMF money to turn the tide in the Russian election and get Boris Yeltsin re-elected as president of the Russian Federation.
I have mentioned in more than one blog how Victoria Nuland’s intercepted phone call revealed the work of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine in conducting the coup to overthrow the legally elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych—in which she specially mentioned Biden’s support. We also know of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s laughing comment, “We came, we saw, he died,” in reference to the overthrow of Libya’s leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. Yet Biden and others continue to insist that Russia is the one who must repent of election interference, although America’s own investigations found no evidence of interference.
There were other comments that clearly indicated ignorance on the part of the American diplomatic team over the issue of China and Russia. Biden “warned” Putin, “You’ve got a multi-thousand mile border with China…China is seeking to be the most powerful economy in the world with the most powerful military in the world.” He later said to the press, “Let me choose my words. Russia is in a very, very difficult spot right now. Russia is being squeezed by China.”
America sees the growing Chinese economy and military as a threat, and assumes Russia should as well. Russia does not see things that way. I don’t think Vladimir Putin cares if China’s economy becomes the largest in the world. Russia has a great trade relationship with China and has a debt surplus with them. China signed an agreement last year to buy natural gas from Russia for the next 30 years. I would hardly call that “being squeezed.”
Further, unlike the U.S., China doesn’t sanction other countries in order to compensate for its diplomatic inadequacies. As for their military, China has far fewer nuclear weapons than either the U.S. or Russia. Their navy is huge, but, unlike the U.S., China does not try to dictate to Russia or any country what its own policies should be. In June of 2019 Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to Putin as “my best friend.” So while there were some statements that indicated the U.S. is wary of the growing closeness between Russia and China, the Americans are diplomatically incompetent when it comes to engaging in dialog that would prevent this increasing closeness between what it calls its two main adversaries.
POST SUMMIT. After the summit the huge differences in the press conferences of the two presidents were glaring. Biden insisted that they would not have a joint conference. He did not allow any members of the Russian press to be present at his conference, and he began by stating that he had been given a list of the names of journalists he was to call on. This was not a real press conference in the minds of many. Even normally Biden-friendly CNN’s Jeff Zeleny complained, “I have never seen a president…who is so protected by his aides in terms of not wanting (them) to ask him questions.” Everything about the Biden conference looked orchestrated.
Putin’s press conference was attended by press from around the world. This is in addition to the interview he gave NBC before the conference. He willingly engaged in “give and take” with reporters who challenged him on various issues. I have never seen a president who can pull facts out of his head like Putin. No one ever caught him off guard or unprepared. In what I saw, the “sparring” never got fully confrontational, but, as with most such conferences, there were some tough questions and tense moments.
Finally, I was quite surprised at what Putin said about Biden after the summit. He said Biden is a veteran politician who is “collected, professional, and skillful.” https://www.rt.com/russia/526858-putin-media-biden-portrayal/?fbclid=IwAR2GnhH5lao1k8QX-wmp1dxXoSt1B6mmliaATPAlzB1mHh1Y-gITLbgQmKA Putin was asked about Biden’s mental capabilities because anyone who watched Biden could see he struggled at points to stay coherent. When asked would he still call Putin a “killer,” Biden fumbled in silence for several moments and never rendered a coherent answer.
Putin responded that Biden had called him after he had made the “killer” comment in the interview with George Stephanopolis. Without going into detail Putin said he was satisfied with Biden’s explanation. As far as Biden’s mental capabilities and the stammering, Putin defended Biden by saying he had travelled across many time zones and had many meetings in just a few days. He said we all have trouble focusing after we travel such great distances.
He was then asked about Biden’s notes which, even in the photo op, Biden kept fumbling around with. Putin said everyone uses notes and some people are in the habit of using them more than others. In other words, reporters opened the door for Putin to elaborate on many of the rumors about Biden’s mental competence, but he chose to remain diplomatic and positive. The difference between the diplomacy of the two leaders could not have been more stark.
FOR FURTHER READING.
Obviously the above summary is not a full study of the issues related to the summit. I include the links below to a few of the articles that were helpful to me.
https://gilbertdoctorow.com/2021/06/09/1856/?fbclid=IwAR0J8crLz0K46BUPoQm5ibpodfs7fOkGiT2EvAzXQssZESWYVDiTmGxrB8w. Gilbert Doctorow has posted three blogs recently on the summit. Two were before the summit, and one was written afterwards. The articles are brief but very helpful summaries of the important issues. He is especially good in his discussions of Russian military capabilities.
This is an article by Ray McGovern that I saw posted on Ron Paul’s site. McGovern has as much experience as anyone in the area of important summits. He is very knowledgeable of Russia, and was a key advisor to American presidents back in the days of the USSR. He also gave before and after interviews with my friend Regis Trembley on Regis’ youtube channel. Both interviews were excellent. Here is a link to the interview after the summit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=po5SCzwfXSw
This is a republication of an article written by Jack Matlock in 2018 on the American intelligence reports saying Russia had interfered with the U.S. election. Jack Matlock is another long time Russian expert who understands and explains what “intelligence reports” really are and how the U.S. diplomats have analyzed them over the years. Matlock is no Trump fan for sure. He has written much on his unhapppiness with the Trump presidency. Yet Matlock is of the old school that believes you don’t let your political preferences influence your evaluation of evidence in the search for truth. He clearly shows the intellectual dishonesty by James Clapper and many others in the way they lied about what these agencies had discovered on Russian interference.
Another article by Ray McGovern, this one written after the summit. He explains how the old method of “trust but verify” has been turned on its head in current U.S. policy, especially with reference to Russia.
This link is to a brief article by Paul Finlay Robinson who explores to what degree the Russophobia of the Trump years may be coming to a conclusion. He does not believe it is dead, but he does believe much of the Russophobia was more about being anti-Trump than about U.S. “national security.” Perhaps with Trump gone Russophobia will fade in importance.
In conclusion, there is some room for hope that the two countries did achieve a meaningful beginning to establish a fully diplomatic relationship. Of course, the proverbial “jury” is still out. In my opinion, the central question is will the reality of the advances made by Russia and China convince American leaders to surrender their commitment to a uni-polar world order? I do fear that they will not do so without a serious and senseless confrontation. The Russians have an expression, however, that “hope dies last.” My deep and abiding hope is that the voices crying for reconciliation and peace between my two worlds would be heard and heeded above the senseless clamor and babel of the dogs of war.