Analysis: Putin got exactly what he wanted from Biden in Geneva

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Beyond a few basic commitments on the reinstatement of diplomats and agreeing to open a “constructive” dialogue with the United States on issues such as cybersecurity and foreign policy, Putin has given no indication that the first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders on Wednesday had forced a change of heart. No number of friendly words, it seems, will prevent the Russian leader from continuing to vigorously pursue his political agenda both in Russia and abroad with near total impunity.

Although he said at the top of his press conference that he didn’t think there was “any kind of hostility” between him and Biden, Putin launched a familiar rant of anti-American whataboutism to deflect criticism of the Russian Federation.

Asked by CNN about cyber attacks against US institutions from Russian soil, Putin spoke of cyber attacks against Russia. “Regarding cybersecurity, we have agreed that we will start consultations on this issue and I think this is extremely important. Obviously, both sides have to take certain obligations there,” he also said. .

Polled on Russian domestic politics, Putin has repeatedly criticized America’s stability and moral standing, pointing to the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill and the murder of George Floyd. For many black people in America, “you don’t have time to open your mouth and you are dejected,” he said.

When asked about Russia’s crackdown on domestic political opposition – particularly the arrest of Alexey Navalny – the Russian president even suggested that the well-known dissident actually wanted to be arrested.

“This man knew he was breaking Russian law. He was convicted twice … He consciously wanted to break the law. He did exactly what he wanted to do. So what kind of discussion can we do. have (about him)? ”

Regarding Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Putin asserted that his country’s military activity in the region was fully in accordance with international law and that the Americans were in fact the aggressor for “the strengthening”. capacities at the Russian border ”. On the sensitive issue of Ukraine’s NATO membership, he said there was “nothing to discuss”.

Regular observers of the Russian president are used to this level of trust and contempt. Putin is a man so sure of his absolute power at home that he can meet the most powerful person in the world with next to nothing to lose.

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a press conference after meeting with the US President at the
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What putin left with

The optics of the summit were almost adapted to Putin’s national needs. The meetings were requested by the United States which, as far as the Kremlin is concerned, confirms that Putin is a leader of similar stature to the American president.

“This is exactly what the Kremlin wants. Speaking to the United States on an equal footing and in such a way that the other side does not demand a change of position as a condition of dialogue, ”said Oleg Ignatov, senior analyst at Crisis Group on Russia based in Moscow.

“There is no doubt that Putin will continue to test Biden if the dialogue stalls or evolves in a direction disadvantageous for Moscow. It is not yet the beginning of the normalization of relations. It is a pause in their further deterioration.” , he added. adds.

As counterintuitive as it may be for Putin to push the US president in the eye later, every action the Russian president does is made in view of how it will play out for him at the national level.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), US President Joe Biden (2nd L), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2n R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) pose for the press ahead of the summit American-Russian at Villa La Grange, Geneva on June 16, 2021.

Keir Giles, Senior Consulting Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, points out that standing up to the United States has been a big part of Putin’s success in his country.

“His robust response to both the softball questions of the tame Russian media and the challenges of foreign journalists will earn points among Russians who share his belief that it is the West that is the dangerous, unpredictable and aggressive partner in the relationship. “, did he declare. said.

Of course, Wednesday’s events also play into a longer narrative that has settled in over the past decade: the West, no matter how harsh it talks about Russia, has been largely incapable of overpowering Putin and its allies. In the eyes of opponents of Putin, the repercussions are insufficient for a man who poisons political opponents, meddles in the elections of other countries, supports the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the bombardment of his own country and annexes foreign territory.

In the eyes of many of his supporters, Putin’s meeting with the US president will sound like proof that Russia’s main dog is fully justified in his actions. They can say that he has reasonably agreed to work with the United States on major international issues like security and the re-establishment of conventional diplomatic channels. And he succeeded in doing so while pointing out the flaws in American society and defending his own.

The summit also gave Putin the opportunity to put an end to the fallout from the deterioration of Moscow-Washington relations, as the United States may now be reluctant to impose further economic sanctions on Russia or reprimand Putin for having arrested dissidents at home. All of this could come in handy when Russia holds parliamentary elections later this year.

In short, Putin went to Geneva and got exactly what he wanted. And he left Switzerland with a huge diplomatic victory, just by showing up.

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