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What Putin really wants from Biden

The Geneva summit between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden on 16 June won’t be a friendly encounter. For a start, Russia recently included the US on its official list of “unfriendly states”. Both sides describe relations as very cheap and neither currently has an envoy in-country; senior Russian officials are under American sanctions for everything from annexing Ukraine’s Crimea to alleged election meddling, and two former US marines are now in Russian prisons – one serving 16 years accused of espionage. On top of all that, there’s the instant in March when Joe Biden agreed with an interviewer that Vladimir Putin was “a killer”. And yet, the 2 men are set to fulfill as presidents for the primary time, and a few in Russia see that as an achievement in itself. “The summit is vital in terms of symbolism; it puts Russia within the same league because the US, and for Putin symbolism isn’t unimportant,” says Andrei Kortunov, director of the RIAC think-tank in Moscow. The meeting comes early in Mr. Biden’s time within the White House, on his first foreign trip and at his request – all bonus points for the Kremlin. it is also a full summit – not a short encounter appended to another event. And despite a packed agenda, including meetings at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Monday, there’s particular interest in Joe Biden’s final stop on his European trip, his one-on-one on Wednesday with solon. “Putin definitely wants to be up to the US president. He wants to be respected on his terms,” political analyst Lilia Shevtsova agrees. “Putin wants to demonstrate macho muscle and to be a member of the club.” The choice of Geneva as a setting harks back to a chilly War encounter in 1985: the primary summit between Ronald Wilson Reagan and Gorbachev. But there’s little prospect that this week’s event will match that either for private rapport or political thaw. Today’s White House says its aim could be a “stable” and “predictable” relationship with Russia. But keeping people guessing – and wary – has been Vladimir Putin’s way ever since his “little green men” entered Crimea in 2014 and therefore the peninsula was annexed from Ukraine. It was the beginning of this slide in Russia-US relations. “A more feasible goal would be to check where each other’s ‘red lines’ lie,” Ms. Shevtsova suggests, also as “an understanding that dialogue is that the way back from the abyss”. ‘If they are not talking, then Russia will become more unpredictable,” she argues. Can they deliver? This weekend, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin told state TV there have been “issues where we will work together” with the US, starting with new nuclear limitation talks, discussing regional conflicts including Syria and Libya, and temperature change. “If we will create mechanisms for performing on those issues, then I feel we will say the summit wasn’t vainly,” Mr. Putin argued. Some in Russia suggest a truce within the “diplomatic wars” may additionally be possible: the US has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and clean up two compounds in recent years; now US missions in Russia are to be barred from employing locals, meaning dramatic cuts in services including visas. Moscow might allow its ambassador back to Washington as a minimum move. The US will raise the fate of its prisoners in Russia, including Paul Whelan who was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage, which he has always denied. Russia recently renewed its push for a prisoner swap – but its terms have up to now been impossible for the US to satisfy, and a unilateral gesture of generosity by Mr. Putin seems unlikely. Hostile West Russia’s president has gone out of his way lately to underline his view of the West as hostile. At this month’s Economic Forum in St Petersburg, he claimed again that the US wants to “contain” Russia’s development. A few days earlier, he had threatened to “knock out the teeth” of any foreign aggressor who wants to “bite” Russia, insisting that the globe has to wake up to the country’s restored status and strength. “Clearly he believes the US is an adversary that does not wish Russia well, and that I don’t think this vision will change,” Mr. Kortunov says. Even so, he argues that Russia is also looking to lower the temperature a notch or two. Cooling down “As a rational politician, Putin would love to scale back the prices and risks related to this adversarial relationship,” Mr. Kortunov believes. That includes economic sanctions: the newest round restricted the government’s capacity to lift funds and new steps may well be further reaching, adding more strain to the economy in a very key election year. “The Russian public has no appetite for policy ‘victories’ now as a substitute for addressing burning social and economic problems reception,” Mr. Kortunov says. “Whatever Putin might want, I do not think he can gain anything [domestically] by escalating.” Unavoidable lecture What Vladimir Putin doesn’t want, but is braced for, maybe a lecture on human rights – including the case of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s opposition politician first poisoned and now in prison. Navalny’s political offices and anti-corruption organization have just been banned as “extremist” by a Moscow court, a ruling that would easily are delayed until after the summit. Instead, the timing seems meant to send a message: that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will still crush dissent which is none of America’s business. “Biden will do his song – his prelude about Navalny and human rights; then Putin will do his song – that the US is that the same,” Ms. Shevtsova predicts, dryly. “But the actual fact this meeting is going down implies that after the human rights ‘ hour’s oeuvre, they’ll travel to the most dish. which is: let’s do something to lower the strain.”


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