The High Cost of Biden’s Meeting with Putin

About midway via Vladimir Putin’s press convention following his summit assembly with President Joe Biden, the Russian President known as on a journalist by title: “Andrei, please go ahead.”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, have you developed any new illusions as a result of this meeting?” Andrei Kolesnikov, a correspondent for the each day Kommersant, requested.

“I never had any old illusions, and here you go talking about new ones,” Putin answered.

It was a set piece. Kolesnikov has been on the Putin beat for greater than twenty-one years. Long in the past, Kommersant was an irreverent newspaper, and Kolesnikov would troll the President mildly in his lengthy, detailed stories. Through the years, Kommersant got here below the Kremlin’s semi-official management, and Kolesnikov grew to become Putin’s court docket journalist. They troll the world collectively. My colleague Susan Glasser has observed that Putin “remains world class in the art of whataboutism.” Whataboutism is a key device of trolling—its premise is that all the pieces is like all the pieces else and nothing means something. In the Kolesnikov-Putin alternate, the absence of that means was the message.

Biden confronted his personal query about illusions. “Why are you so confident he’ll change his behavior, Mr. President?” a journalist requested. Biden, who had been speaking for about thirty minutes, misplaced his mood. “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior,” he stated. “Where the hell . . . What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident?” (He later apologized for having snapped.)

To Biden, illusions are a hazard in overseas coverage; to Putin, they’re its forex. Biden seems to see Putin as harmful, untrustworthy, and intransigent. Some Russia consultants who maintain the identical view—most notably the exiled dissident Garry Kasparov—have argued that the summit shouldn’t have occurred in any respect. Biden was in a bind, one acquainted to Americans from the 4 years of the Trump Presidency: he couldn’t keep away from giving Putin an enormous, legitimizing platform.

Relations between the 2 international locations have deteriorated to their lowest level for the reason that nineteen-sixties. Back in March, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, left Washington for Moscow, and, a couple of weeks later, the U.S. Ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, made the identical journey in reverse. In May, the Russian authorities added the U.S. to a “list of unfriendly countries”—a measure that required the U.S. Embassy to fireside all of its non-U.S. employees. After years of dwindling exercise, the Embassy was successfully gutted. This scenario, by which neither nation has diplomats on the bottom, is existentially harmful, provided that both can destroy the world many occasions over, and sooner than earlier than. Reëstablishing connection was on the high of Biden’s agenda. After the assembly, he stated that he and Putin had labored out a plan for stopping unintended conflict.

Putin’s remark about illusions new and outdated served as a snarky reminder that he has met with 5 U.S. Presidents and, we will collect, expects to fulfill with extra. The Clinton Administration noticed Putin as a younger, dependable, cheap companion, a welcome aid after the erratic Boris Yeltsin. George W. Bush famously appeared into Putin’s eyes and noticed his soul; his Administration regarded Russia as a companion, and primarily based insurance policies on the counterfactual premise that Russia was a burgeoning democracy. The Obama Administration imagined that it may sideline Putin by empowering Dmitry Medvedev, who saved Putin’s chair heat for him from 2008 to 2012. Donald Trump merely needed to be like Putin. Every Administration’s strategy made its personal contribution to the dumpster fireplace that’s Russian-American relations.

It isn’t rocket science, based on Biden. “Look, guys, I know we make foreign policy out to be this great, great skill that somehow is sort of like a secret code,” he stated. “All foreign policy is is a logical extension of personal relationships. It’s the way human nature functions.” So, think about that one of the residents of your house constructing is a monster. He will get into brawls, abuses his youngsters, throws trash out his window, and units off fireworks within the wee hours of the night time. You’ve tried speaking to him, you’ve gone to the police, however nothing has had an impression. You’ve excluded him from group areas; this, too, has failed to vary his conduct, however no less than you didn’t need to see him on a regular basis. Still, that he smokes in mattress, growing the chance that his large stockpile of fireworks will explode. It appears it’s important to speak to him—if solely to attempt to persuade him to retailer his fireworks extra safely, and to insure that he allows you to in in the event you knock. Unavoidably, even speaking to him implicates you in his monstrous conduct.

Biden’s foremost negotiating device seems to have been the carrot of bringing Putin again to the world stage. The summit gave Putin what he craves: being handled as an necessary voice in world affairs, getting a photograph op with Biden, holding a press convention earlier than Biden if not with him, being known as a “worthy adversary” by the American President. Biden warned Putin that this entry and respect had been conditional: if the jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny had been to die in jail, or if Russia waged cyberattacks on vital infrastructure within the U.S., Putin would discover himself much more marginalized than he was earlier than the summit. If there’s a method to speak to Putin with out harboring illusions—with out pretending that he’s a good-faith negotiator—that is in all probability it. But it comes at a value.

Negotiations essentially start with establishing the interlocutors’ respective positions, making them immediately regular. Consider Navalny. Biden didn’t demand his instant launch; he demanded solely that he not be killed in jail. Consider Ukraine: Biden didn’t demand that Russia withdraw from the components of the nation it has occupied, however solely requested that Russia work inside the framework of the Minsk settlement, a collection of cease-fire agreements that may not essentially return the occupied territories to Ukraine. Georgia, one other nation the place Russia has occupied a few fifth of the territory, didn’t determine in both President’s account of their dialog. The very act of drawing purple strains legitimizes the established order.

Another perk of the summit for Putin is the quantity of Western media consideration to his individual and his phrases. The most shameful instance was a sit-down interview with the NBC correspondent Keir Simmons. The journalist requested him about being known as a killer; Putin smirked, deflected, and lied. Simmons moved on to his subsequent ready query. It was entertaining, and Putin bought the final phrase on lots of people who find themselves both useless or in jail.

The world might be a barely safer place following the summit. The Presidents agreed to return ambassadors to their respective postings. It’s probably that Alexey Navalny is somewhat safer now, too. But President Biden and this nation paid a excessive ethical value for it.

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