09.06.2021 – 10:00
When President Joe Biden told officials this spring that he wanted to meet soon with his Russian counterpart for a summit, his team was quick to set it up even if some questioned what he really hoped to achieve.
The last two administrations, including Biden, who served as vice president, had tried and failed to establish better ties with Moscow.
Experienced foreign policy advisers wondered what Biden could gain from meeting with Putin now, less than six months into his term.
The US ambassador to Russia warned senators that the Biden administration risks repeating the mistakes of its predecessors in relations with Putin.
The summit was the subject of internal debate, with a split emerging between supporters and skeptics. A host of provocations, from attacks launched by criminal networks inside Russia to the treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, led to further discussions about whether it was the right time for a meeting.
Biden’s ambassador to Russia even warned lawmakers privately that the administration risks repeating the mistakes of its predecessors if it does not approach relations with Putin openly, CNN reported on Tuesday.
However, after two phone calls with Putin, Biden remained convinced that face-to-face talks were the only suitable place to really engage the infamous volatile leader.
And after more than 40 years spent watching other presidents determine American foreign policy, it was finally his decision to take.
While his domestic agenda is stuck in the Washington bloc, Biden’s arrival in Europe on Wednesday on his first presidential trip abroad is the culmination of decades past circling the center of the U.S. foreign policy institution at times by helped to carve out America’s role abroad, but sideways over others as his views were ignored and even ridiculed.
Often sent to conduct a messy or largely hopeless diplomacy that is considered too difficult for anyone else, Biden this week will experience something extremely different, speaking to foreign leaders as their equal messenger rather than someone else other.
It is the position he has long wanted, but one that now comes with new challenges, including pandemic and critical decisions about vaccine delivery.
His determination to meet Putin, even in the face of skepticism, reflects what officials said was a deeply held view that cultivating a personal relationship with even the most authoritarian leaders is the only way to deal with key issues at present. in front of the world. Putin, Biden has told his team, will respond only with strength and honesty.
“There is never a substitute for leadership engagement with leaders, especially in complex relationships, but with Putin it is exponential,” Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said this week.
“He has a very personalized style of decision-making and so it is important that President Biden is able to sit down with him face to face, be clear about where we are, understand where he is, try to manage. our changes, and to identify those areas where we can work in America’s interests to make progress. “
In Biden’s view, the dangers of his first trip abroad are nothing less than democracy itself. A very symbolic choreography will lead him from a Group of 7 meeting on the Cornish coast in England to a summit with NATO allies in Brussels, Belgium, before ending with Putin’s summit in Geneva, Switzerland, by the lake. who hosted the first talks between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev 36 years ago.
Biden comes up with a self-described mission to prove, in the face of authoritarian threats, that democracy can still function as a message complicated by the historical tensions of American democracy that are unfolding at home. Biden planned his trip to highlight traditional American alliances after four years of strain under President Donald Trump.
Biden will also seek to reassure allies of America’s role in delivering the coronavirus vaccine.
The president is expected to make a major announcement about global production while at the G-7 summit on Thursday, according to two people. In a sign of the role the pandemic will play in Biden’s first voyage, he is bringing together one of his top coronavirus advisers, Jeff Zients.
The visit to Cornwall comes as administration officials have become increasingly concerned about the highly infectious variant of the virus known as Delta, which was first detected in India but is now considered to be dominant in the UK.
However, skepticism is rampant among Europeans that another president, potentially Trump himself, could change everything Biden does or says.
He will also face new tensions towards the US that are going far beyond the pandemic, as they only slowly began to share vaccines with the world.
“The transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden told allies shortly after taking office. “And we are not looking back. We are looking forward, together. “
Biden is stepping down at a fragile moment for his domestic agenda, as bilateral talks on infrastructure collapse and other legislative priorities, such as voting rights, emerge in serious doubt. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein, a senior aide to Biden, is staying in Washington to keep those priorities on track.
Biden has more experience on the world stage than the last four American presidents combined. And while his focus in the first months of his presidency has been directly on resolving problems within US borders – largely the pandemic and its economic crisis in office, foreign policy remains “his first love,” according to aides. .
When Biden was vice president, he traveled to more than 50 countries; The 1.2 million air miles he recorded would have taken him around the perimeter of the Earth 48 times. He became so popular at Shannon Airport, an airfield in Western Ireland where American planes are often refueled on their western return – that staff once organized a special mass for him on a sacred day of duty.
While he will be one of the youngest members around the table at the G7, to be held over the weekend in England, he will also be the oldest. When he becomes the 13th U.S. president to meet Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday at Windsor Castle, they will be able to compare records for the eight he has met himself.
And although his meeting in Geneva next week with Putin will be their first equal, it is unlikely to be Biden’s first meeting with the man he once claimed to have told, a few inches from his nose. that he had no soul.
With a dramatic increase in recent cyber attacks on the United States, the risks to meeting Putin are far higher than any possible tangible outcome.
But administration officials say one of the biggest reasons to move forward at the summit is to boldly define the contrast from Trump’s much-ridiculed session with Putin in Helsinki three years ago.
As US officials began planning the summit with Putin, they knew the talks would require the best part of a day.
Biden’s previous two phone calls with Putin, described by officials as respectful but sincere, stretched as the two men went back and forth over the long list of diplomatic disputes often prolonged by Putin’s habit of setting up events in the United States as examples of hypocrisy when challenged for human rights.
“I was in the room with Putin many times when I was working for President Obama. And the response is always a feature of these summit meetings, “said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser.
“That the response is intended to cause cynicism, that nothing really matters, it is not even worth challenging this, that everyone is as corrupt as everyone else. “And I think it’s up to Joe Biden to make a clear distinction between what America represents in the world and what Vladimir Putin has been up to for most of over two decades now.”
Administration officials also said they were aware of avoiding any comparisons with Trump, starting with the exclusion of Helsinki as a location, despite Finland’s offer to wait as it did three summers ago. Asked if Biden planned to meet one-on-one with Putin without any helpers present, as Trump did, Sullivan said the details were still being finalized.
And then there is Trump himself, whose baseless allegations of electoral fraud have pervaded the Republican Party and made Biden’s democracy in Europe seem to depend on a thread.
“Will the democratic alliances and institutions that formed so much in the last century prove their ability against the threats and opponents of modern day?”
Biden wrote in a weekend published in The Washington Post. “I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the opportunity to try it. “
Translated and adapted by cnn / FH, Konica.al