What would you expect from a meeting in which one of the attendees (Joe Biden) called “killer” your interlocutor (Vladimir Putin) and the latter replies that the state represented by the former is officially a “hostile country”? A meeting proposed by the former, saying that he seeks to mark the red lines on the latter, and accepted by the latter as an acknowledgment that, as he himself dreams, Russia remains a superpower. A meeting in which the differences are much more pronounced than the coincidences, but which is explained, fundamentally, because both need to define a common basis to manage them, without falling into a drift from which neither would win.
If there is one thing Biden can be clear about, it is that neither the thick words nor the sanctions are going to lead Putin to change the course that has been drawn long ago. Internally, it has sought and succeeded in eliminating any organized opposition with enough weight to question its authoritarian power. And abroad, in its eagerness to consolidate Russia as one of the great powers and get rid of what it perceives as a siege led by Washington, it continues to regain much of the influence it lost with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, both in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.RELATED
Determined to do so, Putin has proven himself to be a consummate specialist in moving in the gray zone, one that involves taking effective steps below the threshold in which the adversary is forced to respond directly by military means. Thus, from Georgia (2008) to Belarus (2020), obviously passing through Ukraine (Donbas and Crimea, 2014), Moscow has progressed steadily in terrorizing its neighbors, while stripping the Western discourse – with Washington at the same time. head -, showing his unwillingness to stop him and gamble in defense of some countries that are abandoned before the Russian appetite.
Putin also has an enormous advantage over his opponent, insofar as he has managed, with his particular methods of recruitment and repression, to completely decaffeinate the parliamentary opposition and civil society organizations – Alexei Navalny serves as the most recent example – , giving you more leeway to implement your plans.
On the contrary, it is true that Biden does not intend – unlike most of his predecessors – to “reset” his relations with Russia, but only to make them more predictable. But he has only a brief chance, before next year’s parliamentary elections may force him to reduce his ambitions for change, and right now he also has nothing substantial on his hands to achieve a change in the attitude of his opponent. Perhaps, for this reason, the previous stages of this meeting – the G7 summit, the NATO summit and the US-European Union summit – should be seen as an attempt by Biden to gather support to sit down with Putin from an apparently more solid position.
Following the script already established in advance by Putin, and although at the moment it has not transpired that any formal agreement has been reached between the two leaders, the meeting has only illuminated an indefinite approach to explore a regular dialogue on some issues such as nuclear weapons control (between the two they own, in equal parts, around 93% of all the nuclear warheads on the planet) and some initiative to deal with regional conflicts, such as those in Syria and Libya, or climate change.
It was more difficult that, even if the tempered formal statements wanted to show progress, a minimum understanding could be reached on more tricky issues such as Russian interference in electoral processes in the United States and other countries or the cyberattacks that point to Moscow as responsible or an accomplice . Much less, about the promotion of democratic values or respect for human rights, areas in which Washington tries to corner Moscow, posing the debate in terms of democracy and values versus authoritarianism, as if the United States had an immaculate record. on both grounds.
In fact, there have hardly been any vague announcements about the reinstatement of the respective ambassadors or the initiation of contacts on cybersecurity. But the cool tone can be summed up in that there has not even been a joint press conference after the two rounds of meetings in the Geneva village of La Grange.
None of this means that Putin is not interested in reducing the cost of the punishment he is receiving from the West. But it is clear that he will not give up his efforts for the crumbs that Washington can offer him. And the same can be said of Biden, not so much in economic as geopolitical terms, if only to make less dangerous the disagreements that will surely continue to occur and to prevent the tenuous alliance of convenience that is looming between China and Russia from being able to go to more.
We are not facing a new Cold War, but simply facing a permanent game of action and reaction in which each actor defends their interests, with the US fearing for its hegemony and with Russia aspiring to be great again. And that inevitably causes clashes and disagreements that, fortunately, the leaders of each country have managed to manage so far without leading to disaster, although, as always happens when two elephants argue heatedly, the ants end up suffering.