Biden and Putin

This meeting bears little resemblance to when Reagan and Gorbachev met.  They found trust in each other and a set of common interests.

Biden and Putin will not have any meeting like that.  Nor, can they be expected to have Biden accept any denials by Putin of interference within the U.S. as Trump did.  What can be expected?

Do not expect the two to have much in the way of significant interests in common.  Putin does not want a positive relationship with the U.S. and the West.  He needs them to be adversaries to help justify his government’s actions towards its own citizens not to mention towards its neighbors.  He is a strong Russian nationalist coupled with Russian Orthodoxy.  He sees himself as the defender of the Orthodox in the Middle East as they have asked him to be. He has a healthy list of grievances, real and imagined, with the U.S. and the West.  Further, He sees China as Russia’s friend and the U.S. as their adversary.

First of all, Putin feels that Biden and the U.S. has a sense of moral superiority towards Putin and Russia.  Putin believes they have no justification for that belief.  He is aware that former President Trump does not accept his loss and is pursuing tossing Biden from power with the aid of the GOP.  He knows we have serious internal inequities including the issue of race, and of the police vis a vis the inner cities.  He sees that the U.S. is corrupt since it allows virtually unregulated social media control of itself, and subsidizes ethanol not to mention oil and gas, and that a number of states have been circumscribing the right to vote in order to benefit the GOP or to expand the vote to benefit the Democratic party along with the widespread use of gerrymandering.

He also believes that the U.S. has serious moral failures in its foreign policy such as Trump allowing Erdogan’s military free access to routing the Kurds causing a humanitarian disaster.  In addition, he thinks Iran has every right to defend itself from the U.S.’s sanctions and interference in its internal affairs.  He has already provided Iran with Russia’s state of the art anti-missile systems with Russian advisors on the ground; and has been overseeing the building of a railroad from Russia via Azerbaijan to benefit the Azeri minority in Iran.

What does he want?  He strongly wants the U.S. to allow him to rule as he sees fit in Russia and in its relations with its neighbors.  Biden cannot and will not give him what he wants.

Biden seeks a normal set of relations with Russia where they can agree on some items but disagree on others.  That may be possible in a few areas such as in dealing with climate change, He wants Russia to desist from its cyberattacks including allowing ransomware attacks on the U.S and interference in the 2016 and 2020 elections, back off from any military aggression vis a vis Ukraine, and its human rights abuses as with Navalny. He has called Putin a “killer” and has imposed serious sanctions on Russia back in April for its abuses.

But, Biden’s actions can not be expected to change Putin’s behavior.  Putin appears unmoved by Biden’s sanctions or hard words about him.  The two can be expected to have strong words to speak to each other with little agreement.  The discussions will be “frank”. Putin strongly denies any support for cyberattacks or ransomware criminals; and, argues instead that the U.S. seems to be preparing to cyberattack Russia.

It does seem that the ransomware criminals located in Russia know that as long as they don’t attack Russian interests that they have a free hand to do what they want to do.  Russia has so far shown no interest in regulating them.  Putin has proposed that Russia would be willing to allow extradition of ransomware criminals to the U.S. if the U.S. does the same with its cyber criminals who attack Russia.  That is highly unlikely to take place.  The U.S. intelligence folks believe that they cannot share with Russia what they know about the ransomware criminals as the Russians will tip those criminals that the U.S. knows of their efforts.

The U.S. sanctions imposed by Obama and by Trump have not changed Russia’s behavior and so far neither has Biden’s.  What can be done?  Working together with U.S. allies to confront Russia together may have some chance of marginal success.  Arms controls may be one area of agreement as a framework for strategic stability.  Indeed, new arms control negotiations have already begun. Climate change could be as well.

Arguably, no President has known Russia better than Biden since Reagan and H.W. Bush.  He has no illusions of any “reset” as did W., Obama, and Trump.  He will be straightforward and that is something that Putin will appreciate.  There will not be any gamesmanship.  Putin has publicly expressed a desire for strategic stability in arms control and cooperation in reducing carbon emissions.

That is likely to be the most that can be expected of their meetings.