“Resetting” Russia-US relations

Russia and the United States are making efforts to “reset” bilateral ties with active preparation for the upcoming summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden.

Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then-US Vice President Joe Biden during their March 2011 meeting in Moscow. (Photo: Reuters)
Then-Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then-US Vice President Joe Biden during their March 2011 meeting in Moscow. (Photo: Reuters)

Despite the two sides’ recent moves to probe each other, public opinion does not harbour high expectations for a new breakthrough in relations between these two great powers.

Russian media quoted a release from the Kremlin saying that Russia and the US had reached consensus on holding the first-ever in-person Putin-Biden meeting (as Presidents) in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16. Meanwhile, on the US side, White House press secretary Jen Psaki revealed that President Biden wants to join his Russian counterpart Putin to “reset” US-Russia relations, which were plunged into an “imbalance” during the presidency of Donald Trump.

In recent days, Washington and Moscow have been actively preparing for the historic meeting. To pave the way for the summit, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Antony Blinken met in Iceland last month on the sidelines of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting, with the exchange described as “frank” but “polite” by the media. This is also considered a move to “defrost”, in the context of Russia-US relations being at their lowest point in the post-Cold War era. After that, the Kremlin and the White House also confirmed that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev met in Geneva to discuss preparations for the Russia-US summit.

Statements from both sides partly disclosed the goals and content of the upcoming meeting between the two Presidents. The Russian side announced the two leaders will focus on discussing the current status and future prospects in Russia-US relations, strategic stability, and international issues of mutual concern such as armed conflicts and the global fight against COVID-19. Meanwhile, on the US side, the White House press secretary said the goal of the summit is to discuss many urgent issues in order to seek stability and predictability in Russia-US ties. The White House hopes the two leaders will spend a reasonable amount of time talking about strategic stability, including an agenda revolving around arms control and climate issues.

Although Russia and the US both expressed their willingness to negotiate, analysts stated that the upcoming meeting between President Putin and President Biden is unlikely to bring about many positive results. The reason is that there remain too many contradictions that cannot be reconciled in the short term. Right ahead of the summit, US President Biden still announced new sanctions against Russia related to the Nord Stream 2 project that aims to deliver Russian gas to Germany and some European countries. Accordingly, Washington decided to sanction eight Russian entities for participating in the aforementioned project. Meanwhile, Russia officially deemed the US and the Czech Republic “unfriendly countries”. In addition, with the US accusing Russia of being behind cyber-attacks against the US and NATO’s recent increased military activities near the Russian border have caused both sides to maintain their doubts and disagreements, unlikely to be resolved through just a high-level meeting.

However, regardless of the outcome of the upcoming Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, the two sides’ movement from a “war of words” to a serious discussion about bilateral relations at least shows their goodwill to “reset” bilateral ties which are seriously deteriorating. The reconciliation between these two important powers is beneficial not only to each of the relevant sides, but also to peace and stability in Europe and the world in general. Accordingly, closer Russian-US cooperation will open up the prospect of solving some “thorny” issues of the international community such as the fight against climate change, the global supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, and the resumption of the nuclear deal with Iran.