Biden-Putin: A Simple Summit or a Meeting with History?

There are some meetings that go beyond the moment in which they take place; such are face-to-face meetings between Russians and Americans. They echo the summits that have changed the course of history and that carry consequences we often do not perceive until after they hit. That is why there is such fascination with the first one-on-one meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin Wednesday.

Over the last few weeks, the White House has emphasized how important the initial steps of Joe Biden’s first trip abroad are. And, without a doubt, the Group of Seven summit of major industrial nations in England has taken on some serious stakes: the fight against the pandemic, worldwide vaccination, and also the restart of the global economy.

It won’t be any easier Monday at the NATO summit in Brussels, where Biden will have to reaffirm the American commitment to this great military alliance, to trans-Atlantic security and collective defense. The same agenda is in play the next day at United States-European Union summit where, according to the president’s team, leaders will take up strengthening of democracy and digital cooperation, among other things.

But let’s get back to earth. As serious as discussions may seem, we only had to hear the sighs of relief and the knowing smiles at the G-7 summit after four tumultuous years with Donald Trump to understand that the whole world was on the same wavelength this time.

On Wednesday, the ‘Fun’ Starts

There were no more hints of discord between heads of state and government with Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden, walking arm-and-arm Friday after the official group photo. It was a bond that was even more surprising since the two men had never met in person before.

President Biden, they tell us at the White House, hopes for a more diplomatic relationship, “more stable and predictable,” with Russia. This truly would have been easier to accomplish if Biden had not denounced Vladimir Putin as “a killer” earlier this year.

That being said, Biden must avoid making two big mistakes. The easiest is the first, the mistake that Trump made in ignoring the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies and taking the word of the chief of the Kremlin that Russia had not intervened in the 2016 American presidential election.

A Reset Failure

To this day, Trump is outraged that anyone would find his flirtatious relationship with the Russian president suspicious. The Helsinki conference in June 2018 did not help his cause.

Beyond this, the American president must restrain from attempting a “reset” like Hillary Clinton attempted as secretary of state in March 2009. Staging it as pushing a button amused the Russians, notably due to a very noticeable Cyrillic spelling error, but in the end it had some impact.

The list of gripes from Washington regarding Moscow is long – from cyberattacks and destabilizing activity in Ukraine to human rights violations and interference in Western democracies. And as Putin doesn’t seem to care about international pressure and sanctions, Biden doesn’t have the option of being candid. Be prepared for fireworks!

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