(CNN)– When President Joe Biden told officials this spring that he wanted to meet soon with his Russian counterpart for a summit, his team immediately went to work to make it happen, though some wondered what he really hoped to achieve.The last two administrations, including Biden’s as vice president, tried and failed to improve ties with Moscow. Seasoned foreign policy advisers had watched Russia’s President Vladimir Putin take over the meetings with extravagance. They wondered what Biden could gain from a meeting with him now, less than six months into his tenure.
The summit was the subject of an internal debate, with a division between supporters and skeptics. A series of provocations, from ransomware attacks launched by criminal networks within Russia to the treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, led to a new debate over whether it was the right time for a meeting. Biden’s ambassador to Russia even privately warned lawmakers that the administration risks repeating the mistakes of its predecessors if it does not approach relations with Putin with wide eyes, CNN reported Tuesday.
Yet after two phone calls with Putin, Biden remained convinced that face-to-face conversations were the only appropriate place to engage in a real dialogue with the notoriously gruesome leader.
And after more than 40 years of watching other presidents shape America’s foreign policy, it was finally his decision.
Biden takes center stage
At a time when his domestic agenda is stuck in Washington, Biden’s arrival in Europe on Wednesday, on his first presidential trip abroad, is the culmination of decades in which he has been at the center of US foreign policy. .UU., Helping in some moments to perfect the role of the country abroad, but marginalized in others when their opinions were ignored and even ridiculed.
Biden, who used to be sent to carry out messy or, in most cases, no-future diplomacy, which was considered too intractable for anyone else, will experience something very different this week: He will speak to foreign leaders as his equal. and not like someone else’s envoy. It’s the position you’ve long longed for, but now comes with new challenges, including the pandemic and critical decisions about vaccine distribution.
His determination to meet with Putin, even in the face of skepticism, reflects what officials said was a deeply held view that cultivating a personal relationship, even with the most authoritarian of leaders, is the only way to deal bluntly with the mainstream. problems facing the world today. Putin, Biden has told his team, will only respond by force and honesty.
“There is no substitute for leader-to-leader commitment, particularly for complex relationships, but with Putin this is exponentially the case,” Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week.
“He has a very personalized style of decision-making, so it is important that President Biden can sit with him face to face, to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage our differences and to identify those areas in which we can work for the benefit of America to move forward.
In Biden’s view, what is at stake on his first trip abroad is nothing less than democracy itself. A highly symbolic choreography will take you from a meeting of the Group of 7 on the Cornish coast in England to a summit with NATO allies in Brussels, Belgium, before concluding with the summit with Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, whose shore The lake hosted the first conversations between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev 36 years ago.
Biden comes with the mission of demonstrating, in the face of authoritarian threats, that democracy can still work, a message that is complicated by the historical tensions that democracy in the United States suffers at the national level. Biden planned his trip to highlight America’s traditional alliances after four years of tension under President Donald Trump.
When asked before his departure what his objectives were for the trip, Biden told reporters: “Make it clear to Putin and China that Europe and the US are united and that the G7 is going to move forward.”
Biden will also try to reassure his allies about the United States’ role in distributing the coronavirus vaccine.
The president is expected to make a major announcement related to world production during the G-7 summit on Thursday, according to two people. As a sign of the role the pandemic will play in Biden’s first trip, he will bring with him one of his top coronavirus advisers, Jeff Zients.
Leaving Joint Base Andrews, Biden said he has a vaccination strategy for the world that he will announce, but did not offer details.
The visit to Cornwall comes at a time when government officials are increasingly concerned about the highly infectious variant of the virus known as Delta, which was first detected in India but is now seen as dominant in the UK. .
Yet skepticism abounds among Europeans that another president, potentially Trump himself, could reverse anything Biden does or says. It will also face new tensions toward the United States, which have skyrocketed in the aftermath of the pandemic, after it has slowly begun to share vaccines with the world.
“The transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden told his allies in a speech delivered shortly after taking office. And we are not looking back. We are looking forward together.
Biden is leaving at a fragile time for his domestic agenda, given the collapse of bipartisan talks on infrastructure and other legislative priorities, such as the right to vote, appear to be in serious doubt. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a veteran Biden aide, is staying in Washington to address those priorities.
Biden has more experience on the world stage than the last four US presidents combined. And although in the first months of his presidency he has focused directly on solving problems within the borders of the United States, mainly the pandemic and its current economic crisis, foreign policy remains his “first love”, according to his aides.
When Biden was vice president, he traveled to more than 50 countries; the 1.2 million air miles it traveled is equivalent to 48 laps of the Earth’s circumference. He became so well known at Shannon Airport, an airstrip in the west of Ireland where American planes often refuel on their return to the west, that staff once hosted a special mass for him on a public holiday.
Although he will be one of the newest members of the G7 table, which will take place over the weekend in England, he will also be the oldest. When he becomes the thirteenth American president to meet with Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday at Windsor Castle, they will be able to compare notes on the eight he himself has met.
And while his meeting next week in Geneva with Putin will be his first among equals, it will not be Biden’s first meeting with the man he once claimed to have told, inches from his nose, that he had no soul.
Trump’s shadow lingers
With the dramatic increase in recent cyberattacks on the United States, the stakes are far more important to the meeting with Putin than any likely tangible outcome. But administration officials say one of the biggest reasons to go ahead with the summit is to boldly define the contrast to Trump’s much-derided session with Putin in Helsinki three years ago.
When US officials began planning the summit with Putin, they knew the talks would require the better part of a day. Biden’s previous two phone calls with Putin, described by officials as respectful but candid, dragged on as the two men went back and forth over the long list of diplomatic disputes, often prolonged by Putin’s habit of raising the events that ensued. they develop in the United States as examples of hypocrisy when questioned about human rights.
“I have been in the room with Putin many times when he was working for President Obama. And the appeal of ‘whataboutism’ is always a feature of these summit meetings, “said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s former deputy national security adviser. [El «whataboutism» es una falacia lógica que puede traducirse como ‘tú también’]
“The intention of that whataboutism is to breed cynicism, that nothing really matters, that this is not even worth challenging, that everyone is as corrupt as everyone else. And I think it’s up to Joe Biden to draw the clear distinctions between what America stands for in the world and what Vladimir Putin has been doing for most of the last two decades. “
It’s unclear what the president hopes to gain from the meeting, something Biden himself acknowledges. When asked by journalists before his departure if he would be able to reach an understanding with Putin about the cyberattacks coming from Russia, Biden said: “Who knows?”
“It’s going to be a topic of our discussion,” Biden said.
Administration officials also said they were careful to avoid any comparison with Trump, starting by ruling out Helsinki as a location, despite Finland’s offer to host him as it did three summers ago. When asked if Biden planned to meet with Putin alone without the presence of an aide, as Trump did, Sullivan said details were still being worked out.
And then there is Trump himself, whose baseless claims of voter fraud have flooded the Republican Party and made the very democracy that Biden seeks to defend in Europe appear to be hanging by a thread.
“Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped much of the last century demonstrate their capacity against today’s threats and adversaries?” Biden wrote in an op-ed published this weekend in The Washington Post. I think the answer is yes. And this week, in Europe, we have the opportunity to prove it.