“This is in our mutual interest,” Biden told a news conference following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16. His observation says it all.
The long-awaited summit in Long Valley did not change the sea of US-Russian relations. There was no expectation from the parties that much would be done to re-establish ties, which are currently at their worst in decades.
Moscow և Washington looks at each other as rivals և this work will continue. There is no way around it for strategic as well as ideological reasons. “Reboots” are a thing of the past. Donald Trump’s preferences for the Russians, in particular the infamous summit in Helsinki in July 2018, only worsened the situation.
On the contrary, the three-hour meeting between Putin and Biden seemed to go relatively well. Because the bar was so low, the two leaders agreed on a few small steps that, if followed, would lower the temperature in Washington’s “Moscow.” It’s a simple formula. Put aside controversial issues լինել pursue areas where some give-and-take is possible և desirable.
The summit issued a brief joint statement highlighting the achievements of Russian-American cooperation in the field of strategic arms control since the beginning of this year. In a phone call on January 26, Putin and Biden agreed to extend the New Start contract, which expired in February, for another five years. This gave both parties time to work out a replacement agreement.
Moreover, the two presidents agreed to send their ambassadors back to the respective capitals, restoring normal diplomatic relations. Both diplomats were recalled by their governments in March-April, ostensibly for “consultations”.
The document of how far engagement can go is the greater Middle East. There are several issues that were discussed during the meeting. In Syria, the US government wants a coordinated strategy to deliver humanitarian aid, possibly through the Syrian-Armenian border.
The Iranian nuclear deal is another issue on which Washington and Moscow can work together. The Biden administration has resumed talks on changes to return to the United States for a joint comprehensive action plan with Tehran. Russia, as one of the signatories of the agreement, Iran’s partner, has its share.
Once withdrawn, Afghanistan could become one area of mutual interest. Neither the United States nor Russia would like to see the Taliban return to power in Kabul. With the withdrawal of Western troops, Moscow is more afraid of radicalization in the region than American expansionism, and cooperation is more likely.
If the Russians and the Americans find common ground on these important issues, history will judge them well at the summit.
However, there is no scope for agreement on fundamental issues. With their pragmatic thinking, Biden signaled that they were disgusted with the Kremlin for sharply cutting off pressure from Russia’s internal opposition or the Ukraine war. The United States must implement a good act of balancing. On the one hand, adhering to democratic principles, and on the other hand, by engaging with Russia, treat it as a great power. Biden’s portrayal of Putin as a “worthy opponent” is music to the Kremlin’s ears as a sign of respect.
However, Washington will not pursue a real policy, will not deviate from its values and principles. It is obvious that the summit yielded to Ukraine, which weeks ago dominated in the headlines. There is simply no possibility of a geopolitical compromise between the United States and Russia like Putin.
As a result, the Moscow establishment will continue to view America with suspicion, blaming it for “regime change” and “color revolutions”, as it has done since the mid-2000s. At the same time, the United States, along with China, will view Russia as a standard-bearer of global authoritarianism.
Part of Biden’s mission was to send a message that the US government would counter any attempt by the Russians to cause unrest in the American homeland, be it through cyberattacks or other political interventions, such as during the pre-election period. In the 2016 presidential elections.
Can this minimalist formula for bilateral relations work for Biden, who also approves of the Kremlin? Only time will tell.
Hostility and mistrust on both sides leave much to be desired. It will not take much to start a new tension between Moscow and Washington. Even if the United States prefers to focus on China and the Kremlin prefers to invest its political support at home, the competition has developed its own life; it is highly institutionalized.
But one escape from take is that conditional engagement is not a lost cause. It is not for nothing that both Biden and Putin left the summit in a visible good mood. Russia got some of what it wanted. Be treated by the United States as a peer. The Biden administration also ran from the meeting it originally proposed in April. The US president seemed to be against Putin, but he probably made a commitment.
Looking at the bigger picture, the era of failed reforms between Russia and the United States, which extends to the presidencies of Bush, Obama and Trump, is over. What we have now, as Russian foreign policy observer Vladimir Frolov puts it, is “respectful hostility.” There is a high probability that this situation will be stable.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al Jazeera.