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The Cheering Section for World War III

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America repeatedly elects and re-elects champions of “regime change” in nations abroad (George W. Bush in 2000, Barack Obama in 2008, Donald Trump in 2016, and Joe Biden in 2020), such as in Iraq in 2003, and in Afghanistan in 2001, and in Libya in 2011, and in Syria in 2011-2020, and in Yemen in 2015-2020, and in Ukraine in 2010-2014; and, in all instances, has destroyed those nations while claiming to be supporting ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ and to be ‘opposing corruption’ in all of those nations that it was actually destroying.

Joe Biden, like all 21st Century U.S. Presidents except Donald Trump, wants regime change in Russia, and that would require WW III. Only people who are either very stupid or very evil want that. Which is Joe Biden? Which was Barack Obama? Which was Hillary Clinton (whom Trump had beaten)? Which was Bush? All of them were supported by the post-World-War-II, permanent-Cold-War, endless-war, Washington Establishment, and by the controlling owners of America’s international corporations such as Lockheed Martin and ExxonMobil. And, therefore, all of them were elected to lead America’s Government. It’s a bipartisan Establishment, which includes every American billionaire (none mobilizes against imperialism, or “neoconservatism”), and which chooses the Presidential and almost all Congressional nominees of both of America’s two political Parties. So, Americans always ‘elect’ such leaders, in this permanent-warfare ‘democracy’. But its’ going to war against Russia — a real war against Russia — would be different, because that would be a nuclear war, all-out, instantaneous, and all of the weapons on both sides would be launched within less than an hour. There would be no looking back and correcting strategic errors, no recalibrations, no second-guesses. It would be historically unique, and all of the guesses would be made within that few-minutes-long period, and would be final.

A part of this Establishment is the magazine Foreign Policy, which is owned by the pro-imperialist (or “neoconservative”) Donald Graham, who virtually never has opposed any American aggression and has conspicuously supported them all. He used to own the Washington Post, which he sold in 2013 to the like-minded Jeff Bezos. America’s billionaires own or control all its major news-media and almost all of its online media that have a significantly large audience. (After all: billionaires can buy anything, and once they buy it, they control it.) This is how Americans always come to ‘elect’ such people to lead the country and to choose judges such as on the U.S. Supreme Court, who will see the world in essentially the same way that they do. Regardless of whether the liberal or the conservative version of that way, it’s the Establishment way. As the Nobel Peace Prize winner American President Barack Obama phrased that way, numerous times, while he was America’s President, “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation”, meaning that every other country — including Russia — is “dispensable.” In fact, during his second term (after the first term, while he hid this), he constantly identified Russia as being America’s main enemy, but was a skillful enough politician to make fun of, and casually to ridicule, his 2012 ‘election’ opponent, Mitt Romney’s having said that “Russia, this is, without question, our number one geopolitical foe.” Obama was implying that he didn’t agree with that statement. It’s because of lies like this (to the effect that Obama opposed American imperialism), that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Secretly, even at the very start of his first term, his Administration were preparing to restart the Cold War in a very serious way, by preparing to take over Russia’s next-door neighbor Ukraine and Russia’s Arab ally Syria. But no matter how many times the American public have been lied-to, they never get the hint; and, so, even at the end of Obama’s Presidency, he wasn’t considered a war-monger by most Americans: he had a 59% job-approval rating at the end of his Presidency. (And, of course, some of the other 41% disapproved of his Presidency for reasons that were lies from agents of the Republican Party’s billionaires; so, only far fewer than 41% had any idea, at all, that he, like his immediate predecessor, had been perhaps America’s most harmful and worst, of all Presidents.) Both of America’s political Parties represent only the billionaires who fund them, never  the U.S. public. It’s a phony ‘democracy’, but few Americans even know this. The problem isn’t lack of democracy abroad: it is lack of democracy in U.S. federal ‘elections’. This Government is, in fact, a dictatorship, but it uses propaganda to fool the public to think otherwise. The problem is here at home. The following is an example:

Donald Graham’s Foreign Policy magazine published an article on November 13th, headlined “Biden’s Putin Challenge”. Its sub-head is “Biden has a clear-eyed view of the threat posed by Russia — but a lot of bad advice to ignore.” Its warning is that “Too often, Washington seems to want better relations with Moscow than Moscow wants with Washington.” Its worry is that Biden might turn out to be “desperate and weak” against Russia. It is as if the end of Russia’s communism, and of the Soviet Union and of its military Warsaw Pact that had been created in response to America’s having created its military NATO alliance against communism, had all never even happened.

The article asserted that:

Russia under Putin poses an existential threat to the United States and other countries of the West, Russia’s neighbors, and his own people. Biden seems to understand that, not least because he has been the target of Russian interference in the 2020 election, including a disinformation campaign tied to Russia that was designed to smear him and his son Hunter.

Earlier this year, Biden wrote, “To counter Russian aggression, we must keep [NATO’s] military capabilities sharp while also expanding its capacity to take on nontraditional threats, such as weaponized corruption, disinformation, and cybertheft.” He continued: “We must impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms and stand with Russian civil society, which has bravely stood up time and again against President Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic authoritarian system.” In an interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes before the election, Biden said he considered Russia “the biggest threat to America right now in terms of breaking up our security and our alliances.”

These instincts are sound, and Biden likely will appoint officials who think the same way he does.

There are too many discredited or else outright disproven statements there to go into any of them, because each would require an article in itself; but, clearly, the intent of each of those allegations is to prepare the American public to support bringing regime-change in Russia — i.e., conquest of Russia’s Government, by means of sanctions, coup, or maybe an invasion.

It says that:

The problem is Putin. He simply is not interested in any rethink in U.S.-Russian relations unless that was to involve a capitulation on the part of Washington. As long as Putin remains in power, there is little point in spending precious U.S. diplomatic and presidential time and effort in trying to improve U.S.-Russian relations. There is one exception, however: arms control, where the United States and Russia have a mutual interest in renewing the New START agreement, which is set to expire next February. Just as the United States was able to sign several arms control agreements with the Soviet Union while the two countries were rivals during the Cold War, Washington can today find common ground with Moscow while seeing Putin’s Russia as a threat on virtually every other issue. Neither country wants or can afford to engage in an expensive, destabilizing arms race.

It claims to be supporting a peaceful way for America to conquer Russia, presumably by persuading the Russian public to get rid of Putin.

Is there a realistic possibility to conquer Russia’s Government while winning the support of the Russian people for that objective — such as this Foreign Policy article urges Biden to do?

On 6 March 2016, Jeff Bezos’s newspaper, which he had purchased in 2013 from Donald Graham, headlined “How to understand Putin’s jaw-droppingly high approval ratings”, and opened “Russian President Vladimir Putin has an 83 percent approval rating.” it tried to, but failed to, find a way of explaining this, and it simply concluded that this problem “has flummoxed Western nations and frustrated Russia’s motley band of oppositionists. Some of them say that Russians are too scared to speak their minds to pollsters. Others claim that the poll numbers are manipulated, although most Western polling firms arrive at similar figures.”

In more depth, the article “Is Putin’s popularity real?” in the March 2016 Post-Soviet Affairs, examined this matter. It opened, “Vladimir Putin has managed to achieve strikingly high public approval ratings throughout his time as president and prime minister of Russia. But is his popularity real, or are respondents lying to pollsters?” That article presented a graph, “Figure 1. Vladimir Putin’s approval rating: 2000–2015. Source: Levada Center Omnibus Surveys. Data from Russia’s two other major polling agencies, VT sIOM and FOM, paint a similar picture.” It showed that, going all the way back to the year 2000, when Putin became Russia’s leader, the job-approval of Putin has been between 60% and 90%, and it soared (instead of fell) during the period in mid 2013 through and since Obama’s coup which in February 2014 overthrew and replaced Russia’s neighbor Ukraine’s Government by an anti-Russian Ukrainian Government, in order for Obama to become able to grab, for the U.S. Navy, Russia’s largest naval base, which is in Crimea. Though Obama’s coup succeeded, his goal of grabbing that naval base and turning it into an American one failed. The Russian people supported, and continue to support, Putin’s opposition to America’s constant efforts to conquer Russia. This study, “Is Putin’s popularity real?”, therefore concluded by saying (with obvious regret) that “our results suggest that the main obstacle at present to the emergence of a widespread opposition movement to Putin is not that Russians are afraid to voice their disapproval of Putin, but that Putin is in fact quite popular.” The problem, for America’s dictators (its billionaires), isn’t Putin: it is the patriotism of the vast majority of Russians — their support for Russia’s national sovereignty, never to yield it up, to any invader. 

Consequently, only America’s plan to defeat Russia by means of an overwhelming and sudden nuclear blitz-attack will be able to ‘win’ against Russia. The Foreign Policy article urged Biden to push against Russia at least as hard as his predecessors have done: “Biden should ignore advice to ease or remove sanctions on Russia until Putin withdraws Russia’s forces from Ukraine, including Crimea.” Of course, Russians would consider any Russian leader who would advocate to withdraw Russia’s forces from Ukraine, including Crimea, to be a traitor. (Would Americans think that an American President who allowed Russia to perpetrate an anti-U.S. coup in Mexico, and then to station Russian missiles there against the U.S., to be anything else than a traitor?) Crimea was part of Russia until the Soviet dictator arbitrarily switched it to Ukraine in 1954, and Ukraine’s far-eastern Donbass region, which also seceded from Ukraine, had voted more than 90% for the Ukrainian President whom Obama’s violent coup overthrew; so, those Russian troops are defending those two areas against Ukraine’s efforts to grab them back by military force. Obama had failed in his goal of seizing Russia’s naval base in Crimea. No Russian leader will allow any reversal of that U.S. failure. Any attempt by the U.S. regime to reverse it would bring hot war between the U.S. and Russia and would escalate to WW III unless America would back down, which people such as Jeff Bezos and Donald Graham would make career-ending for any U.S. President to do. But America’s Establishment treats the American public as being idiots who have no idea about any such realities.

However, since Foreign Policy aims to pressure America’s leaders to spend evermore government-money on buying the weaponry of U.S.-based armaments firms such as Lockheed Martin (which, perhaps, most of them are invested in), and to open new grounds for extraction firms such as ExxonMobil (which especially Republican leaders are invested in), it had to deny explicitly that Biden or any other U.S. President would intend any such thing as militarily invading Russia: the blame, for intransigence, is, instead, placed totally against Putin:

Putin is simply not interested in any rethink in U.S.-Russian relations unless that was to involve a capitulation on the part of Washington.

Putin aims for American “capitulation”? Is that what he wants? Or does America demand Russia’s capitulation? And how would that be possible, except in a nuclear ‘victory’ resulting from America’s having achieved “nuclear primacy”?

After all of America’s sanctions against Russia, and its efforts of subversion against Russia via propagandizing for Russia’s oppositionists, and its coup that outright seized Russia’s next-door neighbor and that now threatens to bring Ukraine into NATO and to place America’s nuclear weapons there — the aggressor is: “Putin”? Really?

The article continues with yet more of the standard — though all entirely either firmly disproven or else never proven — accusations to demonize Putin, a litany of America’s standard lies and unproven allegations against him:

Biden’s aim to “impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms and stand with Russian civil society,” as he wrote, reveals a readiness to pursue a long-overdue policy based on principles and values. Given Russia’s appalling track record on human rights, the Biden administration should aggressively implement the Magnitsky Act, which penalizes Russian officials who engage in gross human rights abuses. The list of victims of the Putin regime’s brutal treatment of its perceived enemies is long. It includes the assassination or poisoning, either in Russia or on Western soil, of the former spies Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and the opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and Alexei Navalny.

Near its end, the article urges Biden to be even more aggressive against Russia than his predecessors were:

Neither Obama nor Trump visited Ukraine or Georgia during their presidency to demonstrate U.S. support at the highest levels for these fledgling democracies. Biden has been to both countries numerous times, and he should include stops there on a trip to Europe. Investing in the success of these countries is a good way to solidify their defense against Moscow. He should also be unequivocal in his support for the people of Belarus in their struggle against Lukashenko.

Finally, the United States must stop enabling Russian corruption. Corruption is Putin’s most nefarious and successful export, and the West greedily imports it.

The idea that Russia “exports” and America “imports” corruption, is the exact reverse of the truth. Among the realities which that article is assuming that its readers don’t know are the fact that Harvard’s economics department were hired by the U.S. Government in the late 1980s and early 1990s to set up capitalism in Russia so as to cut America’s billionaires in on the loot, and the fact that those Harvardians did precisely this. As a result, Russia’s economy plunged catastrophically under Boris Yeltsin until Putin became President in 2000 and ordered the billionaires to pay to Russia what they owed, or else Russia would outlaw them and pursue them in foreign courts if they refused to comply and instead escaped. Those cases against some who absconded are still pending, more than twenty years later. If U.S.-and-allied billionaires can’t get a cut, they want the country to be destroyed; it’s their way; it’s merely the normal thing for the aristocracy of an imperialistic country. What else is imperialism about? (Few Americans have even a clue as to what it’s about.) For the Russian billionaires who agreed to Putin’s terms, including never again to become involved in politics, they could stay in Russia, and keep the wealth that was legally theirs. But Putin’s bottom line is that any billionaire who violates the conditions will be prosecuted for any violations.

Virtually as soon as Putin came into power in Russia, the national economy turned around. The 1991-1999 collapse ended, and GDP rose almost as fast as in China. And, as a result, Obama was following through on the “Nuclear Primacy” goal of the U.S. Government that had become semi-official policy under George W. Bush’s Administration in 2006, of ultimately winning a nuclear war against Russia, instead of the prior-existing (ever since the 1940s) strategy, of using nuclear weapons only in order to prevent a WW III, the shared fear, of Mutually Assured Destruction (“MAD”).

So, now, under Biden, it seems that Nuclear Primacy will be ramped up even more than it previously has been. The cheering section is all ready for him to do that.

On 4 December 2014, the former U.S. Congressman Ron Paul had headlined “Reckless Congress ‘Declares War’ on Russia”, and he condemned the casual disregard of any requirement of truthfulness in a resolution (“H. Res 758”) which had been passed that day almost unanimously, with only 10 “Nay” votes, half Republican and half Democratic, but 411 “Yea” votes, 97.6% of the votes being to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives a declaration of war against Russia. So, it is clear that almost 100% of members, even in that House (and the Senate tends to be even worse), are rabidly imperialistic (or “neoconservative”). If a President Joe Biden will follow through on that — as he has given every indication he wants to do — then the only remaining question will be whether, in the estimation of his equally imperialistic advisors, America’s military superiority to Russia is sufficiently “Nuclear Primacy” for them to advise the U.S. President to launch a sudden and all-out nuclear attack against Russia.

Three days later, the writer Thad Beversdorf headlined at Zero Hedge, “The Most Essential Lesson Of History That No One Wants To Admit”, and he analogized that vote, to the vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, on 10 October 2002 (“H.J. Res. 114”) for invading Iraq, which was far less unanimous, 296 “Yea” and 133 “Nay”, with 61% of Democrats voting “Nay.” There was less unanimity to invade Iraq then, than there is support for a President Joe Biden to blitz-nuclear-attack Russia now. After the failure of the Democrats’ effort to expel Trump from office as a ‘puppet of Putin’ (or, as the Washington Post noted, “Joe Biden has called Russia’s Vladimir Putin a ‘KGB thug,’ mocked President Trump as ‘Putin’s puppy’”), they might be even more in favor of launching WW III now than they were on 10 October 2014. With a Congress that’s like this, the President really wouldn’t even need to pay attention to the Constitutional requirement of a formal Congressional declaration of war against Russia — the members of both the House and Senate are already on record as being overwhelmingly in support. For the President, only the opinions of his advisors will be important. Of course, things won’t get to that point if at some stage between now and that decision’s being made, the U.S. President will do the decent thing and back down. But he has not been surrounding himself with people who have given any indication of their supporting such a move. And the cheering section for WW III in America’s press would make extremely embarrassing for him to do that. Maybe some in the press would even call him a “commie” if he did.

Beversdorf also wrote there: 

I recently watched a presentation by former World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, to a political science class at Stanford University. The moral to his story (and I use that ironically) was to challenge them to figure out a way, in the face of a rising East soon to control a higher share of the world’s assets than the West, to retain the West’s global control. He stressed it was something his generation did not have to deal with but that today’s Western up and coming political class must consider. You see, China is a powerful nation, but without an alliance with Russia, China can be contained due its lack of energy. Because China is both a more difficult opponent and one that has much more trade with the US, Russia is the obvious target to prevent a fully formed Sino-Soviet alliance.

The idea that it was ever about “capitalism versus communism” was just fakery, to fool the boobs.

And, now, suddenly, two of America’s billionaires, Charles Koch (a top funder of the Republican Party) and George Soros (a top funder of the Democratic Party), have joined together to form “The Quincy Institute,” supposedly to end America’s imperialism (but without acknowledging that America has recently been “imperialistic”). The creation of this new organization was first reported by the veteran journalist Stephen Kinzer in the Boston Globe, on 30 June 2019, headlining “In an astonishing turn, George Soros and Charles Koch team up to end US ‘forever war’ policy”. But, then, on 11 August 2020, that Institute headlined its own “New Paper Offers ‘Course Correction’ for America’s Failed Syria Policy”, and reported there that “‘Recognizing that Assad is largely culpable for the war, the worst outcome for both U.S. interests and for Syrian civilians would be total collapse of the Syrian state,’ Simon [the paper’s author] says,” and so he argues that the U.S. should “open diplomatic contact with the Syrian regime,” in order to request the “regime” to cease cooperating with its foreign allies, especially Iran. For example, the full paper, itself, asserts that, “The alternative to Israel’s whack-a-mole strategy [against Syria] is a regulated framework for [by which Simon actually means against]  Iranian activities in Syria. The government best able to negotiate and enforce such constraints is the Syrian regime itself.” In other words: Syria’s Government should do some things against Iran’s Government that the Israeli and American regimes want done. (Supposedly, this is NOT neoconservative? How stupid does a person need to be to believe that?) The U.S. regime is not being referred to, in Simon’s screed, itself, as a “regime” — which it actually is, far more than Syria’s Government is. In other words, the con goes on: this is yet another con-job, but coming now from supposedly non-political hires of two U.S. billionaires — two of the individuals who actually control the U.S. Government — instead of from their supposedly democratically s‘elected’ political office-holders. The U.S. regime has the gall to call itself a government, while calling its victim-nations “regimes.” Obviously, continuation of that haughty, basically dictatorial, attitude is inconsistent with ending the invader-nation’s imperialism. Furthermore, the paper itself, by Simon, says nothing, whatsoever, about the necessity for the U.S. regime to pay restitution to the Syrian Government — much less, about placing Barack Obama and Donald Trump before a tribunal of international criminal law, for their war-crimes. In other words: it is a bad joke upon its audience.

The fakery, to fool the boobs, changes, but nothing yet indicates that it will reduce, and no indication, whatsoever, is provided that it will end. Even so much as restitution, by today’s nazi government, to its victims, isn’t so much as mentioned, even once. Perhaps the endless war will just change its name, until it ends the world. Its cheering section will never let up.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

Americas

Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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biden-syria
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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Will Geneva Be Any Different Than Helsinki?

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Joe Biden
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Any meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S. is inevitably an important international event. At some point in history, such summits decided the fate of the entire world, and the world held its collective breath as it followed Kremlin-White House talks on strategic arms or the two sides seeking agreements on urgent regional problems or any political signals coming from the superpower capitals prior to another round of negotiations.

The bipolar era has long been gone, and the Russia-U.S. relations are no longer the principal axis of international politics, although the suspense over bilateral summits remains. As before, the two countries are engaged in “top-down” interaction. Summits give the initial impetus to Moscow and Washington’s cumbersome bureaucratic machines, then diplomats, military personnel and officials start their assiduous work on specific issues, collaboration between the two countries’ private sectors and civil society perks up, the media gradually soften their rhetoric, bilateral projects in culture, education and science are gradually resumed.

Still, there are annoying exceptions to this general rule. In particular, the latest full-fledged Russia–U.S. summit in Helsinki in July 2018 failed to trigger improvements in bilateral relations. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Finland’s capital aroused massive resentment among the anti-Russian Washington establishment. Ultimately, on returning home, the U.S. President had to offer awkward apologies to his supporters and opponents alike, and relations between the two countries continued to rapidly deteriorate after the summit.

Surely, nobody is willing to see another Helsinki scenario in June 2021, this time in Geneva. Yet, do we have good reason to hope for a different outcome this time? To answer this question, let us compare Donald Trump and Joseph Biden’s approaches to Russia-U.S. summits and to bilateral relations at large.

First of all, in Helsinki, Trump very much wanted the Russian leader to like him. The Republican President avoided publicly criticizing his Russian counterpart and was quite generous with his compliments to him, which inevitably caused not only annoyance but pure outrage in Washington and in Trump’s own Administration. Joe Biden has known Vladimir Putin for many years; he does not set himself the task of getting the Russian leader to like him. As far as one can tell, the two politicians do not have any special liking for each other, with this more than reserved attitude unlikely to change following their meeting in Geneva.

Additionally, in Helsinki, Trump wanted, as was his wont, to score an impressive foreign policy victory of his own. He believed he was quite capable of doing better than Barack Obama with his “reset” and of somehow “hitting it off” with Putin, thereby transforming Russia if not into a U.S. ally, then at least into its strategic partner. Apparently, Biden has no such plans. The new American President clearly sees that Moscow-Washington relations will remain those of rivalry in the near future and will involve direct confrontation in some instances. The Kremlin and the White House have widely diverging ideas about today’s world: about what is legitimate and what is illegitimate, what is fair and what is unfair, where the world is heading and what the impending world order should be like. So, we are not talking about a transition from strategic confrontation to strategic partnership, we are talking about a possible reduction in the risks and costs of this necessarily costly and lengthy confrontation.

Finally, Trump simply had much more time to prepare for the Helsinki summit than Biden has had to prepare for Geneva. Trump travelled to Finland eighteen months after coming to power. Biden is planning to meet with Putin in less than five months since his inauguration. Preparations for the Geneva summit have to be made in haste, so the expectations concerning the impending summit’s outcome are less.

These differences between Biden and Trump suggest that there is no reason to expect a particularly successful summit. Even so, we should not forget the entire spectrum of other special features of the Biden Administration’s current style of foreign policy. They allow us to be cautiously optimistic about the June summit.

First, Donald Trump never put too much store by arms control, since he arrogantly believed the U.S. capable of winning any race with either Moscow or Beijing. So, his presidential tenure saw nearly total destruction of this crucial dimension of the bilateral relations, with all its attendant negative consequences for other aspects of Russia-U.S. interaction and for global strategic stability.

In contrast, Biden remains a staunch supporter of arms control, as he has already confirmed by his decision to prolong the bilateral New START. There are grounds for hoping that Geneva will see the two leaders to at least start discussing a new agenda in this area, including militarization of outer space, cyberspace, hypersonic weapons, prompt global strike potential, lethal autonomous weapons etc. The dialogue on arms control beyond the New START does not promise any quick solutions, as it will be difficult for both parties. Yet, the sooner it starts, the better it is going to be for both countries and for the international community as a whole.

Second, Trump never liked multilateral formats, believing them to be unproductive. Apparently, he sincerely believed that he could single-handedly resolve any burning international problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

Biden does not seem to harbor such illusions. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of multilateralism, and he clearly understands that collaboration with Russia is necessary on many regional conflicts and crises. Consequently, Geneva talks may see the two leaders engage in a dialogue on Afghanistan, on the Iranian nuclear deal, on North Korea, or even on Syria. It is not at all obvious that Biden will succeed in reaching agreement with Putin immediately on all or any of these issues, but the very possibility of them discussed at the summit should be welcomed.

Third, Trump was not particularly fond of career diplomats and, apparently, attached little value to the diplomatic dimension of foreign policy. The Russia-U.S. “embassy war” had started before Trump—but not only did Trump fail to stop it, he boosted it to an unprecedented scale and urgency.

Sadly, the “embassy war” continues after Trump, too. Yet President Biden, with his tremendous foreign policy experience, understands diplomatic work better and appreciates it. Practical results of the Geneva summit could include a restoration of the diplomatic missions in Washington and Moscow to their full-fledged status and a rebuilding of the networks of consular offices, which have been completely destroyed in recent years. Amid the problems of big politics, consular services may not seem crucial but, for most ordinary Russians and Americans, regaining the opportunity for recourse to rapid and efficient consular services would outweigh many other potential achievements of the Geneva summit.

From our partner RIAC

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