June 12, 2021
President Joe Biden plans to hold a major “summit” with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, this week. In my view, he should not hold this meeting because it would add to Putin’s prestige and, because of the president’s style of diplomacy, Biden will be giving the Russian leader gifts of diplomatic gains and adding to the latter’s leverage in the world.
The proposed meeting comes at a time in which Russia is likely behind significant cyberattacks against the U.S. infrastructure and while Putin’s opponents are being suppressed.
Putin’s meeting with the leader of the free world lends him legitimacy, while Russians dedicated to freedom in Russia are being oppressed. Putin’s principal political opponent, Alexei Navalny, has been falsely imprisoned and is likely to be murdered through ill-treatment in a labor camp. Putin is all about sending messages to opponents.
Putin’s assassinations and attempted assassinations of his opponents are well-documented, such as the poison attacks on Russian emigres in the United Kingdom. There have been assassinations of Putin’s opponents in Austria and Germany and in Russia itself.
Putin’s message is that his political opponents are not safe anywhere. Biden himself acknowledged Putin as a “killer,” which did much to delegitimize Putin’s authoritarian rule. Now Biden proposes to meet with him as an equal. While Biden offers a desire to travel to Europe to visit allies and rally them against “authoritarianism,” the Putin summit will accomplish the exact opposite.
No strategy has been offered for this summit other than Biden’s desire to restore “stability and predictability” to U.S.-Russian relations. But if Biden performs as he usually does – giving something and receiving nothing in return, as he did in extending the New START treaty on Russian terms – U.S. leadership will again be undermined, U.S. efforts against “authoritarianism” weakened, and Putin strengthened in both the eyes of our allies and those of the Russian people who are otherwise growing tired of his dictatorship.
Putin’s foreign policy is based on aggression. Russia either occupies or supports insurgencies in a number of European states that seek independence from Russian domination. Russia presently occupies parts of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine, and lends its support to Alexander Lukashenko, the illegitimate president of Belarus. Russia has failed to condemn Lukashenko’s hijacking of a Ryanair commercial flight that was forced
down by a Belarus air force jet. A journalist on that flight who had been critical of Lukashenko was arrested and remains a prisoner, as are other Belarusian opposition leaders.
Ukrainian independence remains in my view the hinge on which Europe’s future turns. The development of democracy in Ukraine cannot be successful while it is under Russia’s thumb.
By meeting with Putin before meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden sends a message that relations with the Russian leader are more important than Ukrainian safety and sovereignty. That message will likely encourage further Russian aggression against Ukraine, which Russia has sought to undermine since it annexed Crimea in 2014.
Putin’s military forces on the Ukrainian border emphasize that he believes he has gotten away with his aggression against Ukraine. By failing to sanction Putin’s cyberattacks on the West, Biden’s meeting with him confirms that “all is forgiven,” and Russia will pay no penalty for its continuing aggression.
U.S. allies and the Russian people will take note of the summit’s legitimization of that bad and dangerous conduct. It is this summit that risks disrupting allied and others’ confidence in American leadership.
Biden continues to send confusing signals that are carefully watched by our allies, friends and adversaries. The elimination of the Trump sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is less important for the completion of the pipeline and more important for the signal that it sends.
Biden has talked a good game about Putin, but has done nothing. Why, in effect, endorse the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which reduces Western Europe’s energy independence, and at the same time stop the U.S. Keystone pipeline from Canada? That action, and Biden’s suspension of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil leases, compels the conclusion that he wants to end U.S. energy independence.
Clearly, the U.S. should have a stable relationship with Russia but stability shouldn’t mean only that the U.S. gives and Russia takes.
Biden says he is traveling to Europe to rebuild frayed alliances and to rally the West against “authoritarianism.” As ambassador to the OSCE, I found the relations with the U.S. and its allies to be very strong. I met with the ambassadors of the United Kingdom,
France and Germany, otherwise known as the European “Quad,” every week, and we all understood that we stand for the same values.
This summit implies that President Biden needs to legitimate his own foreign policy credentials by meeting with the Russian president. He should know that the U.S position
in the world remains strong because of our country’s values and its constitutional government.
This summit should either be canceled or suspended until Putin significantly improves Russia’s conduct and shows some sign of a desire to live in peace with the U.S. and our Western allies.