The differences caused by cyberattacks and the violation of human rights are insurmountable. But nobody wants a new Cold War, and there were advances on three specific issues.
The United States and Russia agreed to return to "strategic stability." Neither power is interested in a new Cold War. But they did not hide the big differences they have and agree that there is still a long way to go to reach a rapprochement. Light years from what was the last summit, in 2018, in Helsinki, when Donald Trump was very comfortable with Vladimir Putin and, he assured that he had believed the Russian when he told him that his country had not interfered in the 2016 presidential elections despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Nor did Trump question the Kremlin's human rights violations. At this Joe Biden meeting with Putin yesterday in Geneva, some advances were announced - the return of ambassadors, nuclear weapons, climate change - but the tension between the two presidents about cyberattacks by Russian hackers against companies and organizations was notable. The American public and the treatment of dissidents like Alexei Navalny.
"You do not need to believe someone to reach an agreement," defined Biden in the subsequent press conference. And he said that he gave himself "3 or 6 months" to "see how things are going" with his Russian counterpart. According to his version, "I made it very clear to him that the consequences (of continuing with the cyberattacks) would be devastating for Russia ." Putin once again denied that his country was behind the interference and assured that Navalny "had asked for it," which is why he was in jail. "If he dies in jail, it will be a very bad sign of what Russia is, "the American replied. The reply came during the separate press conference given by the leaders. "The United States," Putin said, "supports opposition groups in Russia to weaken the country. since it sees Russia as an adversary".
The summit was held at Villa La Grange, a magnificent 18th-century mansion on the shores of Lake Geneva overlooking the Jet d'Eau, the mouthful of water that rises for several meters and is the emblem of Geneva. At the time of the photo shaking hands, the first crash occurred between the presidents and between the Russian and American journalists who entered the shoves and the punches to get a better location. It was a scandal that Putin and Biden witnessed with frozen smiles. "Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting," said the American. The Russian nodded and complained about the Zooms. The bodyguards ended the brawl from the press and the photos. Thus began the first dialogue session that lasted one hour and 33 minutes. They were accompanied by the Secretary of State and the Russian Chancellor, in addition to the translators. They took 20 minutes of rest and to consult. And they followed with the second session of 1:27. For Putin, it was already known; he met with four other American presidents: Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama, and Trump. Biden was on his first trip to meet European leaders and lay the foundations for his international politics.
It was a return to the essence of Russian-American relations. A deja-vu of what in 1990 the United States and the then Soviet Union defined as a relationship of "strategic stability," which consists of the absence of incentives for any country to launch a first nuclear attack. Since then, the geopolitical, technological, and psychological landscape that helped prevent war between the world's nuclear powers has radically changed in the Age of Uncertainty that we are going through. The Scientific-Technological Revolution that gives it a framework, it is very difficult to define long-term policies. Although some fundamentals are maintained, such as the ways to prevent the military confrontation; manage global competition between the United States, China, and Russia, and regional rivalries involving countries such as Iran, India, Pakistan, Israel or North Korea; "Exercise a unilateral and parallel restraint in deployments and doctrines"; and "confidence-building and other conflict prevention mechanisms."
The arrival of Biden to the White House ended the 25-year hiatus of competition and confrontation between the great powers. Trump had left a power vacuum that China and Russia exploited. America's 2008 financial crisis already undermined America's leadership. Then, beginning in 2014, Russia challenged the global order with interventions in Ukraine and Syria. Washington was barely trying to contain a rising China. Now the United States, willing to confront China directly and specifically but also Putin's Russia, is returning to the global scene. Biden said it clearly when asked about what he had found in Putin's character. "It's Not Personal It's Strictly Business" (nothing personal, just business), launched paraphrasing Al Pacino in The Godfather.
Biden is a born negotiator. He demonstrated this in all his years in Congress and is famous for his mediation on the threads between Democrats and Republicans. He is also friendly and very comfortable when it comes to international relations. It is part of their "expertise." And that's what he led to a more flashy but correct Putin when it comes to diplomacy. "There has been no hostility," said the Russian. "On the contrary, our meeting was conducted in a constructive spirit." And Biden added: "The tone of the whole meeting was good, positive." But there was tension. And big disagreements. Also, some underlying threats. A good first step after Trump's Mamut diplomacy. "We will see what results in three or six months," repeated the American, until a journalist from CNN asked him the bombshell question: What makes you believe that Putin is going to change in 3 or 6 months?