The long-awaited summit between the US president, Joe Biden, and the Russian, Vladimir Putin, already has a date and place: on June 16 in Geneva (Switzerland). The White House announced the first meeting between the two leaders in a brief statement in which it cited the objective of “restoring predictability and stability in the relationship between the United States and Russia.” The announcement comes after the tension that has marked the first months of Joe Biden’s Administration with respect to Moscow. The appointment will mark the culminating moment of Biden’s first international tour as president.
On April 15, Washington imposed harsh sanctions on some thirty Russian individuals and entities, directly accusing the Russian Foreign Espionage Service (SVR) of interfering in the 2020 elections, a massive cyberattack and Moscow’s alleged offer to the Taliban. to attack US troops in Afghanistan. The previous month, he had already penalized another dozen high-ranking officials for the poisoning and arrest of opponent Alexéi Navalni in a coordinated action with the European Union. The administration of Donald Trump also penalized the Kremlin for a campaign of espionage and hacking, but the Republican expressed an unusual cordiality towards Putin, which aroused enormous misgivings while the Russian leader is accused by the United States precisely of having tried to favor the electoral victory Trump in 2016.
There is no dissociation, this time, between the Administration and the president. Biden has made his critical stance on Moscow very clear. “Putin seeks to erode our transatlantic alliance because it is much easier for the Kremlin to attack and threaten individual countries than to negotiate with a united alliance,” he said in February at the Munich Conference, which was held in virtual mode and supposed its first speech at an international forum. In an interview on ABC News, the host, George Stephanopoulos, asked Biden: “Do you think Vladimir Putin is a murderer?” And the president replied: “Yes, I do.”
This first face to face will take place within the framework of the first international trip of the American as president, when he will visit the United Kingdom to participate in a meeting of the G7 and Brussels for the NATO summit. Washington, for the moment, still does not want to invite Russia to the G7 forum (which with Moscow was the G8), an appointment from which it was expelled in 2014 in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea (Ukraine). Trump wanted to reopen the door for them, but that has also changed with the new Democratic president.
That will be one of the many issues that concern both leaders. Biden will raise with Putin his concern about the Russian troops deployed on the border with Ukraine and the role of the Kremlin in hacking operations such as the serious Solarwinds operation to computers of the US Administration, which caused the sanctions last April, and also the measures that Moscow can take on cybercriminal groups like Darkside, which caused the stoppage of the great US East Coast oil pipeline a few days ago and which, according to US intelligence services, has its headquarters in Russia.
The leaders will also explore long-term agreements on nuclear weapons, following the recent five-year extension of the START non-proliferation treaty. And the latest abuse by his Belarusian ally, Aleksandr Lukashenko, which forced a civil flight to halt to arrest an opposition journalist, is likely to enter the order of the day.
Biden devoted much of his career as a senator to foreign relations and also assumed an ambassadorial role as Barack Obama’s vice president. For the new president, managing the rivalry with Russia and China is a litmus test. He has a good relationship with none of his leaders. Trump, on the other hand, stunned his country after the summit with Putin in Helsinki in 2018, when he gave him as much credibility as his espionage services. That chemistry, however, did not prevent subsequent cyber-attacks.