On Wednesday, the world will look spellbound to Geneva: US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet there for the first time. While Biden’s Airforce One landed in Geneva on Tuesday afternoon, Putin will not arrive until Wednesday.
Ex-President Trump tried to score points with Putin with his pro-Russia policy at the Helsinki summit in 2018. No US president had humiliated himself more pitifully in front of a tyrant, criticized US politicians.
With Joe Biden, Putin is likely to face a different wind in Geneva. Because the relationship between the two great powers has long been – and even more so since Biden took office – reached a low point.
“Killer”, sanctions and Navalny
After Biden called Putin a “killer” in an interview in March, Moscow called its ambassador to the United States back. Putin’s spokesman said that there had never been such a statement by a US president. Apparently, Biden does not want to improve relations with Russia.
Various Russian hacker attacks on US infrastructures, authorities and NGOs recently made headlines. Putin reacted to the US sanctions by imposing entry bans on high-ranking US government officials and expelled ten US diplomats. In May Moscow officially classified the US as an “unfriendly state”.
Another point of contention for years has been the alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election. When it comes to human rights, Biden is likely to focus primarily on the Navalny case. Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny was the victim of a poison attack in August. After treatment in Germany, he returned to Russia, but was sentenced to camp imprisonment there. Putin has classified his regional support network and his anti-corruption foundation as “extremist” and banned them with immediate effect.
In addition to geopolitical conflicts such as the Syrian war or in eastern Ukraine, both countries accuse each other of violating international agreements. Trump, for example, announced an important agreement, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which regulates the disarmament of medium-range nuclear missiles.
For its part, Russia canceled the Open Skies security agreement on international observation flights a few days ago. The US withdrew from the multilateral treaty last year.
Can the meeting, like the Gorbachev-Reagan summit in Geneva in 1985, bring the two warring superpowers closer together and de-escalate them? The Russian newspaper “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”, which is close to the Kremlin, described the meeting as a “central event in world politics”.
Will disarmament come about?
Arms control in particular is the focus with the aim of preventing tensions from degenerating into war. Russia currently has an estimated 1,570 deployable nuclear warheads and the US 1,750.
“It would be desirable to define a roadmap for bilateral relations with an emphasis on arms control. May there just be no war,” writes the “Nezavisimaya Gazeta”.
Meanwhile, both sides are dampening the high expectations. The Moscow magazine “Russia in Global Politics” summed it up like this: “Everyone is waiting for a miracle.” At least Putin and Biden seem to understand that tensions should not increase any further. Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy spokesman, described the situation as “almost critical”. You have to do something. The meeting is a first step. And US Secretary of State Antony Blinken: It is important to talk to each other despite differences.