The delegations of the United States and Russia they sat at the huge rectangular table from a living room of Villa La Grange, an imposing 18th century mansion in Geneva, Switzerland. President Joe Biden was with his officials on one side of the table, flanked with the flag of his country, and in front was his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, with his men and his insignia.
One detail accentuated the tension of that encounter: each country had brought its own mineral water in plastic bottles, a gesture that ratified the distrust of the American towards the Russian, whom a few months ago he had described as a “murderer” for trying to poison opponents.
The Biden-Putin summit, the most anticipated step in closing the American’s first tour abroad, sought to appease one of the most critical moments of the relationship between the two countries, considered the worst since the Missile Crisis, in the middle of the Cold War. The leaders made their effort, there were concrete gestures of relaxation, but at the end of the day the tension did not disappear. Obviously it will take more time to regain some confidence.
Upon arrival, they shook hands and Biden presented Putin with aviator glasses like the ones he wears and a sculpture of a bison, the representative animal of the United States. The head of the Kremlin thanked him for the gesture. After two and a half hours of meetings -a shorter time than the scheduled-, the presidents had progress to announce the return of their respective ambassadors, retired at the most turbulent peak of the relationship, and who would initiate consultations to extend the last nuclear pact they share.
US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during the summit in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo EFE
But beyond those gestures of relaxation, friction points are maintained. In separate press conferences they insisted on the themes that unveil them. Putin accused Washington of funding the opposition to weaken him as an adversary and Biden focused on cyberattacks, which his intelligence services blame on Moscow, and on the violation of human rights in Russia. “I think the last thing you want [Rusia] it’s a new cold war, ”Biden said warningly.
Asked about the balance of this summit, Ivan Dienev Ivanov, an expert in international security and relations between NATO and Russia, told Clarion: Biden said today that “all foreign policy is a function of personal relationships. For this reason, the summit in Geneva achieved its main objective, which is to pave the way to conversations and subsequent negotiations on a broad set of issues despite the low level of trust the two parties have in each other. In that sense, it is possible that we are returning to the spirit of the years 1985 and 1989 during the Reagan-Gorbachev and George HW Bush-Gorbachev summits ”.
He explained that the topics under discussion at the summit can be characterized in three categories. The first was direct communication from Biden to Putin about interests of the United States and its alliess, which include the fate of Alexei Navalny and the Russian opposition, as well as the broader issue of press and media freedom in Russia.
I salute between Joe Biden, on the right, and Vladimir Putin, on the left. Photo EFE
The second category identified areas of practical work, such as the protection of private entities against cyber attacks, as well as the implementation of the Minsk agreements in the conflict in Ukraine, where the two sides agreed to launch bilateral groups to exchange information and coordinate policies.
The last category – said the expert – dealt with problems that include shared common values, such as strategic security and disarmament negotiations. Here, both leaders agreed to reestablish bilateral dialogue on the extension or renegotiation of the new START treaty (strategic arms limitations treaty) beyond 2026.
For Ivanov, “the summit served as a preparatory meeting that could alter the decline of bilateral cooperation between these superpowers towards pragmatic cooperation limited scope on critical problems of global cooperation. Being pragmatic in his expectations, I think Biden left confident that the potential already exists to change the course of bilateral relations, improving global security. “
Beyond the concrete results, the Biden administration sought to lay the foundations of “rationality” in the relationship and took care to lower expectations. The head of the White House avoided talking about success or failure and above all about the restoration of “confidence” towards the Russian. “This is not a matter of confidence, it is of mutual interest,” he said, “the real test will be in six months.” “There is a possibility of improvement without giving in to any of our principles,” he stressed.
Putin also avoided successes. He said that there is will, but also uncertainty. And he cited the top Russian writer when showing his vision after the meeting. “Leo Tolstoy once said: ‘There is no happiness in life, there are only glimpses of it ‘”. “I think,” Putin added, “that in this situation there can be no kind of family trust. But I think we have seen some glimpses ”.