The summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended in Geneva with a joint statement announcing the opening of a bilateral strategic dialogue at the end of more than three hours of talks between the two men. The two leaders described the meeting as “frank, positive and constructive”. Analysis suggests that the Biden administration’s competing diplomatic layout with China is the backdrop for the meeting, while Putin is looking for a way out in a balanced diplomatic line of “saving face for China”.
U.S.-Russia joint statement: opening bilateral strategic dialogue
U.S. President Joe Biden’s last trip to Europe was his first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland.
Biden and Putin met at a luxury villa overlooking Lake Geneva. That afternoon, Putin and Biden arrived at the venue one after another. After shaking hands, the two heads of state held a bilateral meeting for about 90 minutes; then the second phase, which lasted for more than an hour, included an expanded meeting of the two countries’ national security and diplomatic staffs.
In a press conference after the meeting, Putin said it was a “frank, non-hostile and constructive” dialogue. Biden also affirmed the “positive atmosphere” of the talks in a subsequent press conference.
“President Putin and I have a shared responsibility to manage the relationship between two strong and proud nations. That relationship must be stable and predictable.” Biden said he expressed his agenda to Putin in person “not against Russia,” but that the United States will insist on speaking out for basic human rights. “Most importantly, I told President Putin that we need to set some ground rules that we can follow together.”
The U.S. and Russian leaders issued a joint statement after the meeting, announcing their agreement to begin a U.S.-Russian Bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue in the “near future” (Bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue ) to discuss arms control and risk management.
The statement reads, “Even in times of (bilateral relations) tension, we can ensure progress on common goals, ensure predictability in the strategic arena, and reduce the risk of armed conflict and the threat of nuclear war …… We reaffirm the principle that nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought. “
Biden’s Foreign Policy Focus: China
Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council (NIC) and now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank, observed that the Biden administration focused its meeting with Putin on managing possible interference from Russia by diplomatic means.
“The Biden administration doesn’t want to have problems with Russia because it would prevent them from implementing other foreign policy priorities, which they often mention 3C: China (China), climate (Climate), and the new crown epidemic (Covid).” Kendall Taylor said.
Observers analyzed that even though Biden and Putin have a long list of arguments: disarmament agreements, Ukraine, Syria, the situation in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program, human rights oppression in Russia, Russian hacking ……, but the top foreign policy priority of Biden’s visit to Europe is still China.
In the first leg of his visit, Biden first called on the leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) to call on China to respect human rights and pay attention to the situation in the Taiwan Strait; in the second leg of the NATO summit, China was mentioned a rare twelve times in the NATO communiqué released on Monday, which described China as “a systemic challenge to the rules-based international order” and It wrote that “China’s growing influence and international policies may pose challenges that we need to address together as an alliance.”
Biden’s statement with Putin and the press conference did not specifically mention China. However, when asked by a U.S. reporter how Biden pressured his “old friend” Xi Jinping about the traceability of the new crown outbreak, Biden quickly clarified, “Let’s be clear ……, we (Biden and Xi Jinping) are not old friends, everything is just official business.”
Putin: Doesn’t Think China Poses Threat to Russia
Beijing has been closely watching every move of Biden’s European trip, especially the U.S.-Russian stance on China issues.
In an interview with U.S. media outlet NBC before his meeting with Biden, Putin said that the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is reaching an unprecedented level of trust and cooperation and that Russia does not consider China to be a threat to it.
Putin’s public statement was quickly and highly appreciated by Beijing officials, with the official media making much of it. Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “Sino-Russian cooperation is not capped at the top and grounded at the bottom. True gold is not afraid of fire, and we advise those who try every possible way to divert and divide Sino-Russian relations that any attempts to undermine them are doomed to fail.”
In the view of Yu Maochun, a key China policy think tank for the Trump administration, Putin, who is pursuing a balanced diplomacy in Asia, is only “tactfully giving China face.
“Russia’s relations with those countries around the Communist Party of China that are in opposition to the Communist Party of China are more warm, such as with Vietnam and India, and Putin is balancing Russia’s interests in Asia. Yu Maochun told the station, “The Chinese Communist Party is now facing isolation and its strategic focus is to hope that Russia will not abandon it. The CCP also wants to give the world the illusion that Russia and China are an unbreakable partnership. Russia in fact never eats this and refuses to get closer to the CCP. The conflict of interests, of security between the two countries is very huge.”
Russian-Chinese relations: a “marriage of form”?
David J. Kramer, former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, echoed this assessment, saying that Russia and China have come closer to each other in recent years as a “stopgap measure” in the face of international sanctions and pressure, describing the uncaring relationship between the two countries as “He described the relationship between Russia and China as a “marriage of convenience”.
“Russia should see China as the biggest threat to her future, not the United States, not NATO, and not the European Union.” Kramer said, “If I were sitting in Moscow while selling weapons systems to China, I would be nervous. Some people in Moscow are also nervous about the development of Russian-Chinese relations.”
Western sanctions have led to a big drop in foreign direct investment in Russia since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Moscow has turned to Beijing to make up for that loss. Bilateral trade between Russia and China continues to rise, exceeding $100 billion in 2020, and the two countries also expect that figure to double by 2024. China and Russia have also increased joint military exercises as well as military-technical cooperation.
In a report released last August by the Center for a New American Security, Kendall Taylor noted that Russia and China “are unlikely to form a formal military alliance, and the differences in their goals and the asymmetry of their relationship could ultimately keep the two countries apart.”
“In my view, (Biden’s meeting with Putin) is a progressive opportunity to persuade Russia to pursue a more balanced foreign policy ……. The U.S. must show them, publicly or privately:that China is eating the Russians’ lunch.” Kendall Taylor said.
Yu Maochun also mentioned that Russia is also wary of China’s demands for military technology transfers, and intellectual property rights violations; on the other hand, Russia’s position with ASEAN countries on the South China Sea issue is also similar to the ideas of Western democracies such as the United States. These are all areas where the U.S. can draw Russia in for cooperation.