Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Biden-Putin meeting: what threats and hopes can it bring for Ukraine

On June 16, a meeting of the Presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation took place in Geneva. The presidents have discussed a number of issues related to the interaction of the two states, in particular, issues of strategic security, cyber attacks, arrest of Alexei Navalny, interception of a civilian plane by Lukashenko's regime. Ukraine was also on the agenda.

It is worth noting that relations between the United States and the Russian Federation are currently at their lowest point in recent years. The Russian Federation, with its powerful military capabilities, is trying to actively pursue an aggressive foreign policy projecting it not only around its borders, but also in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Africa. The United States is no longer a hegemon, and the state of the American system of alliances, primarily in the European direction, does not allow Washington to effectively influence Moscow's behavior in the international arena. Under such conditions, Biden, desiring to avoid escalation with Russia and its rapprochement with China, tried to lay the groundwork for a constructive strategic dialogue with the President of the Russian Federation. Of course, the outcome of the Geneva summit will also have an impact on Ukraine.

There were a number of issues on which agreements could be reached at this summit such as the possible return to their posts of each country’s ambassador (both have been home for “consultations”); some easing of restrictions on embassies and consulates in the two countries; the release of one or more Americans now held in Russian prisons; and a loose framework for resuming discussion of nuclear arms control.[1] At the same time, there were no expectations that more serious issues related to Nord Stream 2, Russia's support for the Lukashenka regime and Russian aggression against Ukraine could be resolved, because the positions of the American President and the United States, given the desire to conduct a dialogue with the Russian Federation, generally do not allow the country to affect the aggressive actions of the Kremlin. The lack of prospects for resolving fundamental issues was also evidenced by the previous refusal to hold a general briefing on the results of the summit.

In relation to Russia, Joseph Biden chose the «carrot and stick» tactic. On the one hand, he makes statements in which he accuses Russia of destructive activities, promising a tough reaction. On the other hand, he shows a willingness to cooperate and hints that American capital will be invested in Russia in the event of Alexei Navalny release and subject to the observance of human rights within the country. A case in point was the decision not to send American missile destroyers to the Black Sea in April. Now, ahead of the summit, the Biden administration nevertheless decided to send a missile destroyer across the Bosphorus, after which a missile destroyer of the Royal Navy of Great Britain and a missile frigate of the Royal Netherlands Navy also entered the Black Sea. In addition, ahead of the Russian-American summit, the United States provided $ 150 million in military aid to Ukraine. Thus, the United States demonstrate an intention to interact with its partners in the region, including Ukraine.

The Ukrainian leadership has been actively working in a diplomatic dimension with American partners in recent months to make sure that the balance in relations between Russia and the United States will not be achieved at the expense of Ukraine. Before the trip of the American president to the European continent, Joe Biden had a telephone conversation with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in which the parties agreed on their positions. Also, the US President assured his Ukrainian counterpart of unwavering support stating that Ukraine's position will be taken into account during the negotiations. In addition, Joe Biden invited Volodymyr Zelenskyy to visit Washington in July. The President of Ukraine has been actively working with Western media for the last 2 weeks. In particular, Volodymyr Zelenskyy commented to «Axios» and «Reuters», being quite critical of the recent decisions of the US administration and outlined specific hopes for the further direction of the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States. The President of Ukraine negatively assessed the decision to lift some of the sanctions against Nord Stream – 2, outlined his vision of the US-Ukrainian relations security component, including in the context of the armed conflict in the East and the need to provide Ukraine with a MAP, and stated that the United States should provide economic support to Ukraine. In part, this tactic justified itself, because it was after the interview with the «Axios» that the President of Ukraine received an invitation to the White House.

In the context of the Geneva Summit, it is important for Ukraine that Joseph Biden did not show weakness in the Ukrainian issue. In 2008, when at the Bucharest summit it was decided not to grant a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia, Russia perceived this as weakness and within a few months began a large-scale armed aggression against Georgia. Now that Russian troops are around the Ukrainian borders, President Joseph Biden must make it clear to Putin that the United States, together with its European allies, will not allow large-scale aggression against Ukraine.

After the summit, the leaders announced that they have reached an agreement on the return of ambassadors, the launch of a strategic dialogue in the field of security, including cybersecurity, which had not been the case before. Joe Biden provided the Russian president with the list of sectors where cyber attacks should be strictly banned, emphasizing that cooperating on this issue is in Russia's interests, alluding to the powerful cyber capabilities of the United States. It was also decided to start negotiations on cooperation in the Arctic region. Regarding Ukraine, the presidents shared the view that the Minsk agreements should be taken as a basis for resolving the situation in eastern Ukraine. However, it is worth noting that the positions of the United States and the Russian Federation on the way in which these agreements should be implemented are fundamentally different. In this context, Vladimir Putin once again accused Ukraine of intending to first take control over the border and then hold elections. At the same time, the emphasis was placed on the inadmissibility of the introduction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine into the territory of ORDLO (certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts), which confirms the thesis that Russia will not agree to return a full control over the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to Ukraine, even if the Minsk agreements are fully implemented. Joe Biden, in turn, was quite laconic on this issue, once again expressing support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

The summit of the presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation was, first of all, important for the establishment of a further controlled confrontation between the two states. However, agreements on fundamental issues, as expected, were not reached, as Vladimir Putin does not intend to deviate from his «red lines», and Joe Biden, in turn, given the danger of Russia's rapprochement with China, still hopes to avoid a direct conflict with Moscow.