Daily Current Affairs 19.06.2021 (Cold peace, What led to the Biden-Putin summit?)

Daily Current Affairs 19.06.2021 (Cold peace, What led to the Biden-Putin summit?)


1. Cold peace

The U.S., Russia must reset their relationship to pragmatic levels and reduce tensions

The Geneva summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday, has set a pragmatic tone for engagement between the two competing powers. Mr.Biden had, in the past, called Mr.Putin “a killer”. Relations have hit the lowest point in recent years since the end of the Cold War. The U.S. has accused Russia of interfering in its elections and launching cyberattacks and criticised its stifling of internal dissent, while Moscow has slammed America’s “interventionist” foreign policy. Despite these differences, the leaders held talks on all critical issues, bringing diplomacy to the centre-stage. After the summit, they have struck cautious optimism that is rooted in self-interest. Mr. Biden sought a more predictable, rational engagement, while Mr. Putin said relations were “primarily pragmatic”. They have decided to return their Ambassadors to the Embassies and announced “a strategic stability dialogue” to discuss terms of arms control measures. While there was no major breakthrough, which was not expected anyway, they could at least demonstrate a willingness to strengthen engagement and reduce tensions.

There are structural issues in the U.S.-Russia ties. When Russia ended its post-Soviet strategic retreat and adopted a more assertive foreign policy under Mr. Putin, partly in response to NATO expansion into eastern Europe, the West saw it as a threat to its primacy. The 2008 Georgia war practically ended the romance between “democratic Russia” and the West. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 renewed tensions. Russia was thrown out of the G8, and western sanctions followed. But such steps did not deter Mr. Putin. Ties hit rock bottom after allegations that Russian intelligence units had carried out cyber attacks and run an online campaign to get Donald Trump elected President in the 2016 U.S. election. Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin cannot resolve these geopolitical and bilateral issues in one summit. But they can certainly take measures to prevent relations from worsening. For the U.S., the cyberattacks are a red line. Russia, which had amassed troops on the Ukraine border earlier this year, sees NATO’s expansion into its border region as a threat. Both countries should be ready to address their critical concerns and agree to a cold peace, which would help in addressing other geopolitical problems such as Syria. The U.S. should be less pessimistic about Russia’s foreign policy goals. Whether the Americans like it or not, Russia, despite its weakened economic status, remains a great power. Mr. Putin should also realise that if his goal is to restore Russia’s lost glory in global politics, he should be ready to cooperate with the West. Permanent hostility with other powers cannot be of much help to Russia.

Why in news?

United States had expelled Russians officials and ordered to shut Russian consulate in Seattle.

What is happening in U.S?

  • The diplomatic ties between the nuclear powers U.S and Russia continue to deteriorate.
  • U.S. expelled 60 Russian officials and ordered the closure of the consulate in Seattle.
  • The consulate in Seattle alone was ordered for a closure is due to its proximity to one of US’s submarine bases and Boeing Aircraft Company.
  • U.S. administration has given seven days for the officials and their families to leave the country.

What is the reason behind this move?

  • Recently an ex-Russian spy in UK was poisoned with military grade chemical nerve agent.
  • The UK side claimed that this substance was related to the Novichok-class nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union.
  • UK administration accused Russia of orchestrating the attack and expelled 23 Russian diplomats as a punitive measure.
  • Following these actions US administration ordered the expulsion of Russian intelligence officers from the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

What is US’s stand on its decision?

  • The U.S. takes this action in conjunction with its NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom.
  • US claims its actions will make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security.
  • It is believed that with these steps, the U.S. and its allies pose clear to Russia that its actions have consequences.
  • United States also stated that its ready to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behaviour.

What is the response of Russia on this regard?

  • The Russian side has strongly rejected the accusations and offered assistance in the investigation.
  • Russian Defence Ministry made it clear that all chemical weapons stockpiles in Russia had been completely destroyed in late 2017.
  • Which had been even confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
  • However, Moscow’s request for samples of the chemical substance used to poison the ex-spy was denied by UK.
  • Moscow also expelled UK diplomats and ordered the British Council to stop its activities in Russia in response to the UK move and plans to take the same move with US.

2.What led to the Biden-Putin summit?

Unlike in the past, the focus of the U.S. President’s Europe visit was on China

  • Joe Biden meeting Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16, 2021.APAP
  • In 2011, Joe Biden, then Vice President in the Obama administration, visited Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Inside Mr. Putin’s office, Mr. Biden “held his hand a few inches from his nose,” he recalled later in a conversation with journalist Evan Osnos. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I am looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul’.”
  • When Mr. Osnos, who has described this conversation in his book Joe Biden American Dreamer, asked if he said that to Mr. Putin, Mr. Biden replied, ‘Absolutely, positively”. In March 2021, after assuming the White House, Mr. Biden described Mr. Putin as a “killer”. He also said the Russian leader was “going to pay” for the “interference” in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
  • Three months later, the same Mr. Biden met Mr. Putin in the Swiss city of Geneva and sought a more predictable relationship between the “two great powers”.

Western alliance

  • In the past, when American Presidents visited Europe and met NATO allies, Russia had been their main focus. But this time, when Mr. Biden went to Europe, his first foreign trip after becoming the President, the focus was on China — a sign of the emerging shifts in the global power balance. Mr. Biden held a host of talks with separate blocs in Europe — the Group of Seven (G7), NATO and the EU — with a focus on strengthening the western alliance.
  • The G7 industrialised nations — the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan — issued a communiqué slamming China’s human rights records. Issues such as the detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, growing tensions with Taiwan and the alleged lack of transparency on COVID-19 were all mentioned in the G7 statement.
  • The 30-member NATO, whose traditional focus has been on Russia, has also issued a statement in which China has been mentioned multiple times. NATO members warned against the “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order” emanating from China’s rise. The U.S. and the 27-member EU have decided to cooperate more on technology, regulation, industrial development and trade in an attempt to help the West compete better with China. They have also decided to set up a high-level trade and technology council, which would boost innovation and investment.

The China focus

  • This approach is in line with the Biden administration’s overall focus on reorienting American foreign policy to deal with the China challenge more effectively. In the past six months since he assumed office, Mr. Biden has taken a host of decisions in this regard. He ended America’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and is pulling back all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11.
  • In March, he called the first summit of Quad countries — the U.S., India, Japan and Australia — which decided to boost vaccine production to help other countries. At home, the U.S. Congress passed the $250 billion tech and manufacturing Bill, which would ensure funds for the semiconductor research, design, and manufacturing initiatives. The aim is undoubtedly to counter China. And then, Mr. Biden travelled to Europe to rally reluctant allies around the U.S. in the emerging geopolitical contest.
  • When Mr. Biden moves forward, focusing on China, Russia remains a distraction. Ties between the two countries, as both leaders have admitted, are at the lowest point since the end of the Cold War. There were allegations of Russian cyberattacks and election interference in the U.S., while Moscow is reeling under Western sanctions and seems determined to resist any move by NATO to expand into its backyard.
  • Ukraine remains an unresolved crisis. Earlier this year, Mr. Putin had assembled Russian troops on the Ukraine border in a direct challenge to Mr. Biden. After he recalled Russian Ambassador from Washington and asked the American Ambassador to return for consultations, bilateral relations between the two countries practically collapsed. On the other side, Russia was steadily deepening its partnership with China. Mr. Biden appears to have wanted to arrest this free fall of ties and bring in some order.

Detente with Russia

  • In the Geneva summit, Mr. Biden stopped short of characterising Mr. Putin, which he had done in the past, and held talks on critical issues. One summit doesn’t resolve the serious foreign policy differences between the two former Cold War rivals, but both leaders have sought a détente. Mr. Putin said it’s “primarily a pragmatic relationship”, while Mr. Biden said it’s not about trust but about “self interest”. And they decided to return their Ambassadors and follow up bilateral engagements with “a strategic stability dialogue” on arms reduction.
  • The message from Geneva is that the leaders wanted to establish rules of engagement so that the countries can better address their differences and seek common ground on issues of mutual interest. With some predictability in ties with Russia, Mr. Biden can strengthen his China-focused foreign policy. And with a less hostile America, Mr. Putin can retain Russian influence in the country’s backyard.
  • In the past, President Donald Trump had sought to isolate China and reach out to Russia. But, amid allegations that a Russian cyber campaign helped him win the 2016 elections, Mr. Trump’s attempts to build a bond with Mr. Putin met with strong resistance in Washington. But Mr. Biden, an establishment Democrat himself, seems to be having more leeway in the Russia policy.
  • It’s too early to see any meaningful change in Russia-U.S. relations. But the Geneva summit suggests that policymakers in Washington have at least started thinking of Russia as a secondary challenge that needs to be tackled diplomatically, not only through coercion, if the U.S. wants to take on a rising China.

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