Political Observation - Biden-Putin Summit & Strategic Stability

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Political Observation - Biden-Putin Summit & Strategic Stability
 

The Russo-American summit which Biden had solicited was held on 16 June 2021 at the historical Villa La Grange in Geneva. By the time the summit was held, America had implemented further sanctions on Russia intending to rally the allies and partners through the G7, NATO and the EU, in a calibrated political manoeuvre designed to unify the ranks of democratic states and engage in a battle America deemed as “existential” against the “dictatorial regimes”, namely Russia and China in particular. Biden addressed US troops at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, UK by saying: “We’re going to make it clear that the United States is back, and democracies of the world are standing together to tackle the toughest challenges, and the issues that matter most to our future.” He stressed the significance of his first presidential trip by stating: “I believe we’re in an inflection point in world history, a moment where it falls to us to prove that democracies will not just endure, but they will excel as we rise to seize the enormous opportunities in the new age.” The significance of this meeting is heightened by the flurry of accusations America directed at Russia such as threatening the security and stability of Europe by meddling in Ukrainian affairs and backing the separatists, initiating several cyberattacks, abusing human rights in Russia and Belarus, harnessing energy as a strategic weapon to undermine Europe’s energy security, and meddling in US elections and the affairs of democratic states; Biden also described Putin as a “killer without a soul” and Russia as being scared. This was followed by a series of escalations, such as Moscow and Washington’s decision to recall their respective ambassadors, Russia’s deployment of 130,000 troops and hundreds of various weapons within the context of what Russia described as military drills, which Washington exploited to evoke Europe’s fears of war with Russia and to abort any attempt at a rapprochement between Russia and Europe, especially after the virtual meetings between Putin, Macron and Merkel. This prompted Putin to announce that relations between the two countries were at their worst since the Cold War. Biden responded by saying he agreed with Putin’s assessment.

However, the attitude of the two countries soon changed as the date of the summit approached. Biden announced on the eve of the G7 summit: “We’re not seeking conflict with Russia, we want a stable, predictable relationship. Our two nations share incredible responsibilities, and among them sharing strategic stability”. For his part, Putin exaggerated in singing Biden’s praises, describing him as experienced, level-headed and precise; he told state television that there were issues on which they could work together, such as nuclear disarmament, regional conflicts, and the environment. “And if we could generate a mechanism for working on these issues, we could then say that the summit was not ineffectual.”

It is common knowledge that Russia has been striving to maintain the momentum of her presence in the equation of world politics, especially in the former regions of her influence, to protect her lebensraum and halt her regression in the face of EU and NATO expansion, and to remain a significant element in the equation of European peace and security. Russia is attempting to persuade America to profit from her rather than take a belligerent stance towards her, and this was corroborated by the statement of Putin at the International Economic Forum in St Petersberg in which he said: “The US is attempting to contain the progress of Russia…. The world should realise the reality that Russia has regained her status and her power,” i.e., acknowledge the significance of her role and respect her position at an international level. It was also corroborated by the military escalation near the Ukrainian border through which Putin sent a message to America that she should not ignore her and exploit her without any returns of favour. The significance of the summit for Putin means that Russia should sit at the table with America as an equal and confirm her role and influence on the European political and security situation. This does not clash with the overall American aims. In fact, this was what America has been seeking to remind Europe of the threats posed by Russia’s rogue behaviour, through the political events taking place during the first months of Biden’s tenure, such as arresting Navalny, mobilising troops on the Ukrainian borders, and quelling the protests in Russia. Hence, during the first month of Biden’s tenure, the White House hastened to invite the Kremlin to hold a presidential summit during the US President’s first overseas trip, which was interpreted diplomatically as being praise for Russia and a response to Putin’s desire to be a “member of the club” and gain “respect on his terms”, especially with the symbolic characteristic of Geneva which hosted the 1985 summit between Reagan and Gorbachev. This narrative was expressed by Biden in his inaugural address by referring to the status of the two states as “two superpowers.”

It seems America wanted to initiate a fresh relationship between the US and Russia from this summit, based on mutual understanding and on enabling Biden from drawing the outlines of world politics and the relationship with Europe, and reproducing “soft power”, a capitalism that “serves the masses”, and liberal democracy, as well as containing China in exchange for some scraps to feed Putin’s domestic standing. Such consequences have not occurred in a vacuum; they were rather a natural outcome of Putin’s desire to avert a confrontation with Biden and to attempt reaching an agreement with him on the room of differences and understandings, and an inevitable upshot of the sanctions imposed by America and her allies on Russia since she invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014, and what they yielded in terms of suppressing Putin’s appetite for being present and achieving foreign victories; America succeeded through the sanctions in reining Putin in and curbing his foreign aspirations that nurtured his domestic dominion, and in making the economic costs of his foreign policy and of maintaining his popular image greater than his personal and nationalistic exploits. One of the examples reflecting such a reality is the protests that erupted in March and April 2021, i.e., in the year of crucial elections of the Duma to be held in September 2021, in addition to America’s persistent carrot and stick policy with Putin; the Biden administration threatened to respond in kind and robustly and to continue financing the plan to wean Europe off Russian energy sources, which led Russia to realise that she would no longer be able to sustain her military spending, especially in the face of financial and economic sanctions targeting her main source of revenue from energy exports, and the growing domestic resentment towards the economic situation and the state’s policy of focusing its attention on upgrading its nuclear arsenal to gain superiority over the US in terms of Hypersonic Systems and strengthen the Russian nuclear deterrent now that it has lost part of its capabilities due to America’s deployment of missile batteries in Eastern Europe. Biden exploited Russia’s woes as a carrot to replace the stick of sanctions by arguing that “Russia would be viewed more favourably by other nations for investment and trade if Moscow respected political rights at home and operated within international norms.”

Therefore, the purpose of the “strategic stability” announced by the two presidents following the end of the summit could be perceived as a tool to conduct the relationship between the two countries. This could also be elucidated once the new inputs and explanations introduced by America to the classical definition of “strategic stability”, which dates back to the cold war, especially in the wake of the agreement concluded between the two superpowers in Vienna in 1961 when Russia accepted the principle of peaceful coexistence.

It is clear that America is attempting to deceive the world into believing that the international situation is “multipolar” and “more complicated”. This is reflected in Biden’s statement following the meeting when he said: “I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we all abide by.” This in fact reflects the policy pursued by the US to conceal her crimes and assign the dirty work to others, in addition to generating hotbeds of tension and scarecrows to compel the countries of the world to proceed under her leadership and execute her policies.

Hence, the purpose of raising the issue of “strategic stability” afresh is not related to regulating nuclear armament, which is a natural and constant issue in the relationship between America and Russia that arises each time one of the sides upgrades their nuclear arsenal, nor is it related to redefining the term to include the issues of cyberattacks, artificial intelligence and drones, but, in the words of the German ambassador Rüdiger Bohn, who was speaking at an International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Roundtable discussion, it is designed to “incorporate and adapt arrangements for new tech and security challenges and security domains”.

By reading all this, it transpires the presence of two aims for this American strategic vision: the first is disarmament and managing the threats of nuclear weapons which are regulated by international treaties within the framework of international law and its mechanism, such as “inspections, investigations and recordkeeping,” to implement this on the “group of current and future strategic issues” to avert what may undermine the stability of the international situation and America’s centrality. As for the second aim, it entails conveying a message, specifically to China, that political work and activities, and relations with America and the world should be conducted through adhering to the regulations and rules of the world order, which will achieve the US values and serve America’s interests and national security, and will embroil China in the talks pertinent to “strategic stability” and include her in the disarmament treaties, considering that the status of China’s armament policy and the intricacies of its upgrading in terms of delivery systems, capability and range are lacking transparency, according to experts.

This American trend towards the relationship with Europe and China necessitates perpetuating the state of uncertainty concerning the Russian political comportment. This was clearly expressed by Biden’s call for a “predictable” relationship with Russia, and his description of Russia as a superpower, unlike Obama, who described her as a regional power; Biden however stopped short of expressing confidence the summit would yield a change in Putin’s conduct. The American trends necessitate also launching the war of the models, instituting capitalism in its American liberal democratic format throughout the world, bargaining with Russia to make her return to the “club”, grant her an opinion and conditional and regulated influence through a working agenda determined by the US. In this context, President Biden announced “I also said there are areas where there’s a mutual interest for us to cooperate for our people, Russian and American people, but also for the benefit of the world and the security of the world,” in order to handle the threats to “strategic stability” that guarantees the centrality of the US, contain the conventional rival powers through international treaties which ensconce the traditions and rules of responsible behaviour and criminalise bad behaviour, and specify the mechanisms of reducing the threats, the mechanisms of inspection, verification, and disclosure. This stipulates expanding the system of “international behaviour” emanating from The Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation to include the concept of “strategic stability” through implementing Biden’s tenet stipulating that a growing world power also necessitates mature responsibility.

26 Thil Qi’dah 1442h
7 July 2021

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