In front of the cameras, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin each claimed to have had a ‘positive dialogue’ at their Geneva summit meeting. However, once the summit ended, it was Putin who seemed to walk away the winner. Although Biden admittedly walked away with his expectations fulfilled, the bar had been set awfully low for the American president going into the summit. Biden came to Geneva primarily to open a dialogue between himself and Putin and promote a stable, predictable US-Russia relationship. This goal was partly achieved, yet it will take time to determine if the relationship becomes stable and predictable. Beyond that, however, Biden achieved nothing of substance.
The Russian president, on the other hand, took advantage of the opportunity to bask in the limelight. With the attention of the world upon him, he took advantage of the opportunity to elevate his stature back home in Russia. The summit came a few short months before parliamentary elections in Russia are scheduled to be held. Putin’s popularity at home is waning, the Russian economy is faltering and his COVID-19 response has not been effective at all. Yet he appeared strong and confident in Geneva and that projection could help him and his party at the ballot box.
Before arriving in Geneva, President Biden offered two concessions to Russia in the form of extending the START II treaty and removing NordStream 2 sanctions. This left him with very little to negotiate with. In essence, Biden came to the summit without any rounds in the chamber. This may explain his emphasis on human rights issues, especially the fate of Alexei Navalny. Biden warned of serious consequences if the Russian opposition figure dies in prison. Putin did not appear shaken by the warning, especially given comments made in his post-summit press conference. He defended his government’s treatment of Navalny and likened Russia’s opposition protests to the Black Lives Matter protests/riots in US cities last summer. “We feel sympathy for the United States of America but we don’t want that to happen on our territory. We’re doing our utmost in order to not allow it to happen.”
Bold words for a man under fire globally for a less-than-stellar human rights record.
It has been an active weekend and Monday with regards to Ukraine and the buildup of Russian military forces in close proximity to the border. Overall, it appears more people are beginning to take the threat of armed conflict there seriously. With the movement of Russian military forces continuing on with no end in sight, and diplomatic efforts to calm tensions not yet producing results, the situation in and around Ukraine remains volatile.
Senior advisors to the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia are holding meetings today in an effort to reduce tensions in eastern Ukraine and discuss a restoration of the ceasefire between Russian-supported separatists and Ukrainian forces. Another topic expected to be discussed will be laying the ground work for a summit intended to resolve the issues at the core of the crisis between Ukraine and Russia. Quite frankly, the subject matter of these meetings seem to make it clear that Germany and France are tip toeing around the heart of the matter: Russia’s military buildup and the Kremlin’s intentions.
The weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny is becoming a concern across Europe. As scrutiny on Navalny’s condition has intensified, he has been moved to a prison hospital. Navalny is now 20 days into a hunger strike that has weakened his health state, as have the conditions of his imprisonment. The situation has brought on international warnings that the Russian government will face consequences should Navalny die in prison. The Russian government said today it would retaliate against further sanctions and rejected foreign countries’ statements on the Navalny case. “The state of health of those convicted and jailed on Russian territory cannot and should not be a theme of their interest,” a government spokesperson said.
Great Britain will be sending warships to the Black Sea in May amid the rising tensions in the area. A pair of ships, one Type 45 destroyer and one Type 23 frigate, will detach from the Royal Navy’s carrier task force in the Mediterranean and head north through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus into the Black Sea. A timetable for the expected move has not been revealed in detail. The British move comes just a few days after the Biden administration cancelled the planned movement of two US destroyers into the Black Sea.