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Russia and U.S. Must Not Squander Chances For Cooperation

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A new chapter in American history has begun.

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has been sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. The repercussions of his election and the fight—in the most literal sense of the word—for the Oval Office will reverberate for a long time to come.

The new U.S. administration has a difficult four years ahead. Then again, none of Biden’s predecessors had it easy, always having more than enough problems to keep them busy. But the domestic and foreign policy issues facing the United States today run far deeper than ever before. Both the future of the U.S. and the wider global political architecture will largely depend on how Biden tackles those issues.

The new President has put the fight against Covid-19, domestic politics, climate change and the restoration of U.S. leadership in the world at the top of his to-do list. But it is quite clear that the country has a litany of ailments that extend far beyond these issues. Biden’s main challenge on the domestic front will be to somehow mend a country that is divided along so many lines—political, national, racial, religious, cultural and generational. There is no way he will be able to respond to this challenge quickly, effectively and convincingly. But if his administration does not get a handle on the political confrontation inside the country—which is increasingly spilling over into the streets and manifesting itself in violence—then other problems, including foreign policy, will be incredibly difficult to solve.

In Russia, we should be most concerned with how U.S.–Russia relations will develop in this difficult situation. The legacy left by Donald Trump in this respect is ominous. Perhaps most distressing of all is not the fact that bilateral relations reached their lowest ebb for many decades, but rather that under Trump almost all the negotiating mechanisms that had been relied on in the past to solve problems or prevent them from spiralling out of control were destroyed. This is why some U.S. and Russian experts are already talking about the threat of direct military confrontation between the two largest nuclear powers in the world.

This state of affairs is extremely concerning. And any sane person—be they Russian or American—should realize this.

While there is no quick fix—nor can there be one—the opportunity to change the general course of U.S.–Russia relations is there. What we need is a dialogue—at least on those issues where we can come to some kind of agreement. This does not mean one side making concessions. There are many areas where negotiations and agreements no doubt meet the long-term interests of both countries.

Arms control

First, there is arms control. Extending the New START Treaty without any additional conditions meets the security interests of both sides. All that is needed for this is the political will of Moscow and Washington. Extending the Treaty would not mean that much for international security in and of itself, but it could signal both parties’ readiness to engage in a broad dialogue on key issues of strategic stability. We have no reason to expect any other agreements on arms control in the foreseeable future—only the extension of the New START. But the sides have the chance to create a permanent negotiating mechanism on arms control, and it is essential that they realize this opportunity.

In this regard, we would do well to recall that the United States and the Soviet Union were in almost constant contact with each other in the 1960s-1980s over issues of nuclear capacity, carriers and delivery vehicles. During this time, the U.S. and Soviet delegations worked tirelessly, keeping their respective leaders abreast of the negotiations and acting on their instructions. In other words, it was not just special delegations and government departments that were involved in this complex process, but those at the very top on both sides.

This was how a new atmosphere in bilateral relations—one that made concrete agreements possible—was formed. This is the kind of negotiating mechanism that we so desperately need today. All the more so because military technology is developing at a far more rapid pace now than half a century ago.

Just like during the Cold War, dialogue and potential agreements on strategic stability can, given the appropriate political will on both sides, act as a stepping stone towards the restoration of bilateral cooperation in other areas.

Regional conflicts

The second area of mutual concern are the regional conflicts in the Middle East, Syria and Libya, as well as the nuclear problem in Iran and North Korea.

It is unlikely that we will see any bilateral agreements on these issues in the near future. That said, the parties would certainly benefit from dialogue, given that both Russia and the United States have their own geopolitical and other interests in these regions.

The most realistic way for such a dialogue to take place at the moment is within the framework of multilateral mechanisms. Russia could step up its efforts to give new dynamics to such formats as the Quartet on the Middle East—made-up of representatives from Moscow and Washington, alongside the UN and EU—as well as other multilateral negotiating formats dealing with the Iranian and North Korean nuclear issues.

Despite the difficulties of negotiating within multilateral formats, they do have certain advantages, as they allow parties that do not have direct lines of communication to engage.

Climate

The third area is climate. Joe Biden’s statements during the election campaign clearly point towards the United States returning to a policy of international cooperation on global climate change. If the President starts to make good on his promises, then opportunities for a dialogue on this issue will present themselves. Preference should probably be given here to less-toxic multilateral formats.

A related area is the Arctic. Competition for influence in the Arctic among regional and non-regional actors is intensifying. And if this is not translated into adequate international legal regulation, then this could lead to increased tension and even direct confrontation in the region over the coming years. Later this year, Russia will take over as chair of the Arctic Council until 2023, and could thus give a new impetus to dialogue and constructive cooperation in the region.

Seizing opportunities

Alongside those top concerns, there are many other industries and areas where Russia and the U.S. have a long history of cooperation, and where collaboration is needed today—ranging from space, science and education to culture and ties between NGOs.

The opportunities are there in all of these areas. But they mean little if they are squandered.

Thus, we must ask ourselves the key question: What serves Russia’s long-term interests—persistent confrontation with the United States or mutual understanding on key global issues?

There are likely some who would prefer confrontation, and they would be able to provide various reasons to support their position. Polemics aside, I would nevertheless point out some of the negative consequences for Russia should it follow such a path in its relations with the United States.

A sharp confrontation with the United States would handicap Russia as far as its objective advantages for development are concerned, reduce its room for maneuver in the international arena, limit its access to modern technologies and international capital, and force it to allocate significant funds for the burgeoning arms race.

There is no reason to believe that these costs can be offset or reduced over time. And the fact that the United States would also suffer losses in a confrontation with Russia is not a reasonable consolation.

The moment of truth has come for both the United States and Russia. The sides must take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves at the correct time and in the correct manner. Otherwise, they will be lost forever.

From our partner RIAC

President of the Russian International Affairs Council. Professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs (RF MFA). Russian Academy of Sciences Corresponding Member. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation.

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Americas

Who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit?

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Before the much anticipated Geneva Summit, it became clear that President Biden would not be holding a joint press conference with President Putin because Biden wanted to go speak to the “free press” after the meeting. This was Biden’s way to show Putin, to rub it into Putin’s face that in Russia the media is not free.

Then the day of the meeting came and it turned out that Biden had a list of pre-approved reporters “as usual” whose names only he had to call. And Biden told everyone to the dismay of not only Republicans but pretty much anyone, including the free press.

Then Biden had a hard time answering questions even from that list. When CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked him a regular question along the lines of “why do you think this would work?”, Biden lost it and suggested that Collins did not belong in the journalistic profession.

Collin’s question was a softball question, in fact. It was not even a tough question according to international standards. It was a critical question from an American mainstream media point of view, assuming Biden as the good guy who just can’t do enough to stop the bad guy Putin.

It was not even a tough question and Biden still couldn’t handle it by mustering something diplomatic and intelligent that makes him look like he was in control. Biden is no Obama. We knew that already but he should be able to at least respond to a regular question with a regular answer.

If you think American mainstream media were mistreated at the Geneva Summit, you should have seen how the rest of the international and local media were treated at another venue, at the request of the American government. I already described what happened at the point where the Biden and Putin convoys were going to pass. You should have seen how we were treated, at the request of the US authorities, and how the Swiss authorities really played by the US’s drum. Later on, White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Biden gave Swiss companies exemptions from sanctions imposed on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Biden refused a joint press conference with Putin because he wanted to rub the “free press” in Putin’s face. Well, Biden surely showed him. It was the other way around, in fact. Biden didn’t take questions from the other side. Putin took highly critical questions from American journalists and he did it like it was business as usual. Putin didn’t have a list of blocked or preapproved journalists from the other side, or people he dismissed on the spot. Russian journalists were in fact denied access to the venue, in front of Parc la Grange.

Supporters of Black Lives Matter like me naturally didn’t like the substance of Putin’s answers. President Putin attacked Black Lives Matter, even though ever since the Soviet times the treatment of black people has always been a highlight of Russian criticism of American society and values. It seems like President Putin doesn’t want a big, sweeping movement that would reform everything, so that the issues can persist and so that Putin can keep hammering on the same point over and over again. If one is truly concerned about rights and well-being, one has to be in support of the social justice movement trying to address the problems.

In fact, Putin’s approach to black people’s rights is a lot like the FBI’s view of the radical, violent far left: the FBI do not wish to address the violent elements which probably represent 5% of the whole movement, just so that the FBI can keep the issues alive and discredit the whole movement. One saw that the Capitol riots groups really calmed down as soon as the FBI stepped in but FBI director Chris Wray is not interested in doing the same with the violent radical left, precisely so that the issues can persist and the FBI can keep pointing to violent “Black identity” extremists. It is the FBI’ style to keep little nests of fire here and there, so that they can exploit or redirect them in their own preferred direction from time to time. Let’s not forget that the leader of the Proud Boys was actually an FBI informant for a long time, probably taking instructions from the FBI.

At the Geneva Summit, Putin also stated that he saw nothing criminal in the Capitol riots on 6 January that undermined democratic principles and institutions. That was an example of someone trying to use and support existing forces within American society in order to undermine it.

But the substance of Putin’s answers had nothing to do with the process of interacting with the “free press”. Putin took questions from everyone, Biden didn’t. Putin didn’t screen out or dismiss journalists from the other side, Biden did. Putin didn’t lash out on anyone suggesting that they should not be in that job. Biden did and he did it even to his own pre-approved list of media that he was supposed to like.

In terms of process, Putin passed the test and Biden couldn’t handle interacting with the free press even in very restricted, sanitized conditions. Despite what you think of each leader and their policies, it has to be said that Putin handled interacting with the media as business as usual, and Biden struggled in his interaction with the media. Even when Biden was reading from a teleprompter, even with a preapproved list of journalists and even when he was not in the same room as Putin, Biden still made mistakes and couldn’t handle it. Even when everything was chewed for him, Biden still couldn’t do it.

In fact, Biden looked more like an overwhelmed Kardashian abroad who had to have his hand held at any moment and less like the leader of the free world. First lady Jill Biden in fact did hold Biden’s hand on occasion and rushed him out of places like a child when the President seemed to wonder off in the wrong direction, such as at the G7 Summit in Cornwall. And that guy has the nuclear codes?

There have been concerns with Biden’s cognitive abilities. President Biden confused President Putin with President Trump, while reading from a teleprompter. What was remarkable is that Putin stated that he found Biden to be actually knowledgeable and prepared on the issues, and that Biden is actually not in a mental and cognitive decline contrary to mainstream understanding. While on the face of it, the statement sounded 100% positive and in defense of Biden, this was a very aggressive, veiled jab of the sort “many are saying that but I don’t think that”. Putin raised the doubt, gave Biden an evaluation and proved to be a total player.

In total, the bottom line of who won the interaction with the “free press” at the Geneva Summit was clear: Russia 1, the US 0.

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Americas

Joe Biden’s European vacations

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Joseph Biden, better known as Joe Biden, is an American politician from the Democratic Party who won last year’s presidential elections amid scandals and accusations of fraud. In his autobiography, Biden describes himself as a leading figure in determining US policy in the Balkans, and openly admits having convinced President Bill Clinton to intervene militarily in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and becoming the main architect of NATO enlargement.

Here are just a few facts from his past that can shed light on the possible  line of actions that could be taken by America’s current President.

Biden is certainly no stranger to Balkan issues. In 1999, he played an important role in the administration of President Bill Clinton, when NATO bombed Yugoslavia without a UN resolution, an act of aggression that resulted in Kosovo being proclaimed an independent state and which is now home to the largest US military base in Europe – Camp Bondsteel.  In 1999, the current US president was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bombing of Yugoslavia, which is something he took pride in.

“I propose to bomb Belgrade. I propose to send American pilots and blow up all the bridges over the Drina River,” said Biden, then a US Senator.

On September 1, 1999, Senator Joseph Biden visited Bulgaria as a representative of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, meeting with President Peter Stoyanov, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mikhailova and local lawmakers. Biden has become a key figure in Bulgaria’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance.

Today, after several years of lull, tensions in Ukraine are shooting up again.  At the close of 2013, a series of riots were provoked there eventually leading up to the 2014 coup and the subsequent conflict in the country’s eastern regions. During the armed confrontation, the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics were established, which to this day remain at loggerheads with Kiev. After a region-wide referendum, over 95 percent of the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea announced their desire to reunite with Russia. The role of Washington in the violent overthrow of power in Ukraine was clearly visible. US officials openly supported the Maidan, and Senator John McCain met with future government officials. Victoria Nuland, then US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, publicly stated that Washington had allocated $5 billion to support democracy in Ukraine. She personally distributed food to “peaceful demonstrators”, many of whom later ended up on the Maidan with weapons in their hands. Nuland, who served as Assistant Secretary of State to three presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, retired in 2017. Today, Biden is bringing her back into politics, nominating her to the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Political Affairs – the third most important in the State Department.

Biden visited Ukraine five times during and after the Maidan. The United States, along with Germany, Poland and France, forced the country’s then-President Viktor Yanukovych to make concessions to protesters, which quickly led to the government’s collapse. Immediately after the resignation of Yanukovych in February 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Biden as his official representative in Ukraine. A little later, Biden’s son, Hunter, was appointed to the board of directors of Ukraine’s Burisma gas company.

After the coup, the Americans took deep roots in Ukraine with their representatives appearing both in economic structures and in the government and special services. Years later, details of their work became available to the media. Former US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said that he had managed to find witnesses and obtain documents demonstrating attempts to cover up violations of the law by Burisma and Hunter Biden’s involvement in the laundering of millions of dollars. Giuliani unveiled a scheme how $16 million, including $3 million “earned” by Biden Jr., had been withdrawn through a network of companies, a number of which were located in Cyprus. Other investigations initiated by the media have also revealed large flows of “dirty” money that was flowing from Ukraine through Latvia to Cyprus and other offshore companies such as Rosemont Seneca, founded by Hunter Biden and Devon Archer.

In April 2019, journalist John Solomon published a post in the American edition of Dakhil about how Joe Biden was helping his son in his business dealings after leaving the post of vice president and bragging to foreign policy experts that, as vice president, he had forced the dismissal of Ukraine’s chief prosecutor. Biden related how in March 2016 he threatened Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that Washington would withdraw its $ 1 billion loan guarantees and drive the country into bankruptcy unless Attorney General Viktor Shokin was dismissed immediately. And dismissed Shokin was, accused of not being active enough in fighting corruption. However, when talking about his victory, Biden misses an important point. Prior to his dismissal, the attorney general had launched a large-scale audit of the Burisma mining company where Hunter Biden was working. According to the US banking system, between spring 2014 and autumn 2015, Hunter’s company Rosemont Seneca regularly received transfers from Burisma to the tune of about $166,000.

This whole story gives us an idea of what kind of a person Joe Biden really is  and the question is how he will behave in the future.

Even before Biden’s inauguration as president, media representatives and analysts predicted an aggravation of the military situation, an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and an increase in US activity in the Balkans. In the spring of 2021, these predictions were confirmed, and the military rhetoric of the US administration began heat up. In a March 17 interview with ABC TV, Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” Even during the Cold War, world leaders did not allow themselves such disrespect for one another. Similar statements from American politicians are often made against foreign leaders whom they want to overthrow or physically eliminate. A number of analysts believe that the absence of an apology from Washington indicates that such a statement was not accidental, but well thought out and comes as a new step in the information war against Russia.

The further development of events in the international arena appears more and more is scary each day. In the media and in public statements by a number of politicians the topic of possible military action is almost becoming “business as usual.” Therefore, the new American president’s personality and his inner circle is extremely important for understanding the future and assessing global risks around the world.

From our partner International Affairs

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Americas

The Private And Public Joe Biden: Belief And Policy

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Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

Joe Biden supports abortion rights politically, a position conflicting with doctrine in the Catholic church.  Despite the pope issuing a warning to act with care, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is now ready to prepare a teaching document that could potentially bar Biden from receiving Holy Communion at mass.  A central sacrament during mass, Catholics believe that eating the consecrated wafer dipped in wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ, unites them with their savior fortifying them to face evil temptations.

The USCCB vote to prepare the document was an overwhelming 168-55, and a committee of US bishops has been assigned the task.  Responding to questions, President Biden called it a private matter.  The document is expected to be ready in time for debate at the November bi-annual conference of US Catholic Bishops.

If that is one headache for Biden, another is in the offing.  Perhaps as a consequence of US policy towards Iran, the election of a hard-liner in Iran’s presidential election seems almost certain.  Judge Ebrahim Raisi, who is also Iran’s top judge, is on his way to victory on the basis of the votes counted so far.

The 60-year old cleric spent most of his life as a prosecutor until he was appointed Iran’s top judge in 2019.  He is fiercely loyal to his fellow clerics, particularly to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader who has the final say in all matters.  All the same, the president does the administration and has significant input in both domestic and foreign policy.  Suffice to say, Raisi lost in a landslide to Hassan Rouhani, who sought accommodation with the West, in the previous election four years ago.

Having played hardball with Iran, the US is repeating itself with a Russia anxious for better relations.  Following the G7 meeting in Cornwall a week ago, President Biden flew to Geneva meeting President Putin at the Villa La Grange for a closely-watched summit.

Relations between the two countries have been tense following a series of events including the Russian annexation of Crimea.  The latter was transferred to Ukraine for administrative convenience when a connecting bridge was being constructed so that both ends of it would fall under the same authority.  The people of Crimea have no other connection with Ukrainians other than they were both part of the Soviet Union. 

Climate change, arms control, cyber security and American interest in jailed dissenters in Russia including Alexei Navalny .  Reading the riot act to Mr. Putin does little to further stability in relations.  Peace is not a problem among like-minded countries with a commonality of interests, it is a challenge when the parties are rivals, nuclear armed, and capable of blowing up the world.  Mr. Biden may be proud of his performance but is he able to accept the challenge, for if not where does it leave the rest of us …

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