Heading to Canossa – Detestable submission: Explaining Biden’s summitry with Putin

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The main mystery of Joe Biden’s upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin is the lack of a clear understanding of why the American president needs it.

In order to realize the uniqueness of the upcoming summit, it makes sense to pay attention to the surprising oddities of its preparation.

Biden requested the meeting, through his NSC chief and Putin’s counterpart

First, the meeting was initiated not by Vladimir Putin, but by Joe Biden. It was Biden who called Putin on April 13. A few weeks earlier, the US president seemed to agree with a journalist’s opinion that the Kremlin owner is a “killer.” Putin’s subsequent personal offer to debate to Biden publicly was followed by an insulting refusal from Biden’s press secretary. But less than a month after the noisy interview and the humiliating refusal, Biden himself called Putin. Moreover, he not only phoned, but personally invited Putin to participate in both a multilateral meeting on climate issues and a bilateral summit between them.

Secondly, the organizers of the summit on both sides are not the top diplomats, but the presidential aides for national security. Not Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, but Jake Sullivan and Nikolai Patrushev. Sullivan has 12 years experience at the State Department. Patrushev spent 47 years in the Soviet and Russian political police – the Soviet KGB and the Russian FSB.

Why did the Biden administration choose Patrushev, and not Lavrov, as its liaison for the summit? We don’t know. It is an unusual partnership. As head of the FSB, Patrushev became infamous for publicly confirming that his men planted a massive explosive device seized by local police from the basement of a residential building in Ryazan in September, 1999. The bomb, which would have leveled the apartment block, had been planted by FSB officers, apparently on Patrushev’s order, or at least with his knowledge. The incident appeared to be part of several deadly apartment bombings that Putin used as a pretext to take political power.

Subsequently, as secretary of Putin’s Security Council, Patrushev became known as a supporter of a preventive nuclear strike, including against a country that does not possess nuclear weapons. Why the American president had Sullivan and not Blinken prepare his summit with Putin, making Patrushev his partner on the Russian side, is unknown. Biden thus empowered Patrushev, one of the most anti-American hawks in the Kremlin, against both the Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Department of State. Patrushev is anything but a negotiatior, yet he has already anticipated reaching agreements with Biden: “on a number of positions, we can count on the development of mutually acceptable solutions.”

Biden hasn’t followed up on any of his long-held anti-Putin programs.
He’s done the opposite.

Thirdly, less than five months into his term in the White House, Joe Biden has done nothing about Vladimir Putin and his regime that he was advised, recommended, urged to do by his Democratic Party allies in their numerous reports, concepts, strategies, and policies that formulated what had promise as a robust response to the aggressive actions of the Kremlin.

The most striking thing is that as President of the United States, Biden has done nothing about Putin that he had accused President Trump of not wanting to do. He did nothing about what he, Biden, personally proposed to do about Putin in his joint article with Michael Carpenter, “How to Stand Up to the Kremlin,” just three years ago.

Fourth, in the same bare five months of his stay in the White House, Biden took many of the exact opposite steps that he demanded to be taken three years ago. Some of his actions cannot be called otherwise than multibillion-dollar financial and geopolitical gifts to Putin. If President Trump had taken those actions, he would have been branded by mainstream media, justly, as an unscrupulous Putin accomplice. In particular, Biden:

  • immediately extended the latest Strategic Arms Reduction (START-3) treaty for five years (and not for a year or two, as, for example, recommended last summer by the current Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland);
  • stopped the construction of the Canadian-American Keystone XL oil pipeline;
  • refused to apply the sanctions established by Congress against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in particular against the project’s general manager, former East German Stasi secret police man Matthias Warnig. Biden thus allowed Putin’s favored infrastructure project to complete its line B, and now Gazprom is doing everything possible to quickly complete the construction of line A;
  • refused to increase military aid to Ukraine, which is a victim of the Kremlin’s unprovoked aggression that has been going on for more than seven years;
  • abruptly ordered two American destroyers heading for the Black Sea to return as Putin concentrated Russian troops along the Russian-Ukrainian border and in the occupied Ukrainian territories;
  • without waiting for the results of investigations, publicly denied the involvement of the Russian authorities in cyber attacks on vital economic infrastructure in the United States – the Colonial Pipeline, whose closure caused a multistate fuel crisis, and the network JCB poultry processing plants.

Fifth, Biden provided Putin with an unthinkable foreign policy breakthrough and diplomatic triumph that helped break the Russian strongman out of his relative international isolation. By inviting Putin to a meeting of leaders of 40 states on climate issues, Biden legalized Putin’s participation in high-level international events in which the Kremlin chief had not taken part for a long time. Putin’s trip to Geneva, at Biden’s invitation, will mark Putin’s first trip to a Western country since January 2020. The summit with Biden presented Putin an opportunity to give his June 14th NBC interview as a first one with US media since 2018.

Biden gushed over Putin’s faceless, colorless, substance-free speech at the climate summit: “I’m very heartened by President Putin’s call yesterday for the world to collaborate and advanced carbon dioxide removal. And the United States looks forward to working with Russia and other countries in that endeavor. It has a great promise.”

Every few days either Biden himself or his administration officials informed Washington and the world about how Biden longs for a meeting with Putin, how he hopes for the success of negotiations with him.

Putin didn’t share the joy. Up to his June 14 NBC interview, Putin never publicly commented on his upcoming meeting with Biden. In other words, it was Biden, not Putin, who advertised the meeting, and who created and sustained the expectations of the summit.

Peace Through Weakness?

Sixth, although Biden’s people have said more than once that the president would meet with Putin “from a position of strength,” his actions and his statements in fact testify to the opposite – of Biden’s glaring weakness.

Biden said that he was heading to meet with Putin after the G7, NATO and US-EU summits, after meetings, according to Sullivan, with 35 to 36 heads of state, which, according to the plan, should symbolize the unification of enormous power. But it actually highlights Biden’s personal weakness. The need for him to meet multilaterally means that he is too lightweight on his own to meet with Putin without substantial external advance reinforcement. In the entire history of US-Soviet and US-Russian summits, it has never happened that the American president tried to increase his political weight through meetings the day before with his allies and friends. For his part, before the Geneva summit, Putin did not meet with any of his allies and satellites, which underscores Putin’s self-sufficiency and self-confidence in comparison with Biden’s apparent over-eagerness. Biden’s approach to the summit diminished his stature and strengthened Putin.

Seventh, the most recent comments from Biden and those accompanying him are already signs of self-deprecation. When a journalist asked Biden why he refused to hold a joint press conference, Biden replied: “this is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference to try to embarrass each other …”

It is difficult to find an example of a more obvious admission that, in the eyes of Biden himself, the joint press conference is the very contest that he would certainly lose.

First Lady Jill Biden made the situation worse, announcing that the president was “overprepared.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s attempt at damage-control turned out to be a real embarrassment:

Well, what I think she meant by that – I also know she said – which I agree with, from having many conversations with him – is that foreign policy, national security, you know, engaging on the world stage is an area that has been a central focus of his 50 years in public life and public office.

It so happened that for a meeting with Putin, for whom he had so many unflattering words, and whom he himself called a killer just three months ago, Biden had indeed been preparing for 50 years. It is impossible to imagine that the preparation for any international meeting, no matter how important it may be, any president – American, Russian, or any other – would be able to take 50 years.

Many unanswered questions

Naturally, the question arises: Why?

Why did Biden invite Putin at all?

Why does he want to meet him?

What does he want to discuss with him?

What does he want to negotiate with him?

Why has Biden already taken so many steps that would be unusual for any American president?

Why did he not do what was expected of him, and what Biden himself had promised for years that he would do?

Why is he going to a meeting, the agenda of which was not formed until the very last moment, the formats of discussions of which still have not been determined, with no deliverables expected, and with no traditional joint press conference to announce any results or even extend a standard diplomatic protocol?

Why did Biden have this summit arranged from his National Security Council staff in the White House with an old KGB man as the Kremlin counterpart, and not through traditional and established diplomatic channels?

When Biden himself, his national security advisor Sullivan, and other representatives of the US administration were asked these and similar questions, no intelligible answers were received. Only an empty refrain that “we want a stable and predictable relationship.”

At best, it then enumerates a bland vinaigrette of traditional themes – international stability, disarmament, regional problems, cyber terrorism, climate. But their very predictability, and even the way in which these topics are enumerated, without any meaningful filling, inspiration and expected results, which require no urgent meeting at all, indicate that, obviously, there is something else. There is a hidden reason why  Biden asked for this summit with Putin.

Biden has awakened to the threat from China – and now he needs Putin

Despite no official information or substantive leaks on either side, one can assume what topic Biden may discuss with Putin in Geneva.

There seems to be no other issue that occupies a more important place in Biden’s foreign policy strategy than the unfolding confrontation with China. Within this topic:

  • Biden launched the Quad initiative – the formation of a soft alliance between the United States and India, Japan, and Australia;
  • Biden removed the taboo from discussing the Wuhan Virological Institute lab-leak theory;
  • Prior to this trip, Biden had personal meetings with only two foreign leaders – the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of Korea;
  • At the G7 summit in Cornwall, Biden held a separate meeting with the leaders of Great Britain and Australia;
  • In the communique of the Group of Seven, a special place was occupied by the topic of countering China, with Italy abruptly considering its participation in the Belt-and-Road Initiative;
  • At the NATO summit, confrontation with China was given a central place.

Success in a serious and long-term wrestling with China is unlikely without pulling Russia away from its embrace of Beijing. Or without achieving at least Russian neutrality. And then, therefore, it is necessary to come to an agreement with Putin. Despite everything that Putin has done. And despite everything that Biden said about Putin’s deeds and Putin himself.

But Putin cannot be carried away by stories about democracy and progressivism, nor can he be intimidated by climate alarms and discussions of the state of human rights in Russia and Belarus. Putin can only be attracted by the satisfaction of his real interests. And Putin’s material interests lie in Europe.

That is why Biden allowed Putin to complete the construction of Nord Stream 2.

That is why Biden refused to increase military aid to Ukraine.

That is why, having met before the start of his first trip abroad with the leaders of Japan and Korea, Biden refused to meet with the presidents of Ukraine and Poland (at the very last moment he met the Polish President Andrzej Duda in Brussels). And even the German chancellor will visit Washington only a month after Biden’s meeting with Putin.

That is why, as it just emerged, the NATO alliance plans to stop deploying ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe, following President Biden’s meeting with fellow heads of state.

That is why Biden, back on April 2, 2021, publicly supported Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and did not object to mentioning his personal support for Ukraine’s full membership in NATO – then, two months later, he demanded that the Ukrainian press release on his telephone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelensky be corrected to eliminate references to his support for Ukraine’s NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP).

That is why at his June 14 press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels Biden categorically rejected the granting of the MAP to Ukraine. In doing so, he paves the way for a repeat of the 2008 story. Then, taking advantage of the refusal to grant the MAP to Georgia at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Putin invaded Georgia four months later and occupied 20 percent of its territory.

That is why, at the same press conference, by saying nothing how he would prevent torturing political prisoners in Russia, Biden de facto gave Putin the green light to maul the Russian opposition.

Q: “What it will mean for the U.S.-Russia relationship if Aleksey Navalny were to die or be killed in prison?”Biden: “And Navalny’s death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights. It would be a tragedy.  It would do nothing but hurt his relationships with the rest of the world, in my view, and with me.”

The fundamental meaning of all these actions is obvious – it is an attempt to lure Putin into a large-scale geopolitical deal in the unfolding grand confrontation with China, obtaining at least Russia’s neutrality in exchange for satisfying Putin’s geopolitical wishes in Europe.

Biden’s actions remind those of us born in the Old World as the Road to Canossa. The expression recalls a humiliating ritual of a powerful Holy Roman Emperor from the Middle Ages who pleaded for an audience with the pope, trudging through a blizzard to meet the church leader at a castle in Canossa, Italy. On finding himself locked out of the castle at the pope’s orders, the emperor spent three days on his knees at the gate, naked except for a punishing hair shirt, to beg forgiveness. After the third day, the pope granted the humiliated emperor’s wish.

But despite Biden’s all efforts, his attempt to negotiate a “stable and predictable relationship with Russia” deal is doomed to failure. Putin will not agree to it. He has already stated in his interview with NBC:

“We can see attempts at destroying the relationship between Russia and China. We can see that those attempts are being made in practical policies … I have set forth my position for you … I understand that what’s beginning is— a certain kind of— confrontation with China. Everybody understands it. We can see it … However … we have developed a strategic partnership relationship— between Russia and China that previously had not been achieved in the history of our nations …”

Complete misunderstanding of such a person as Putin, a fundamental US inability to deal with him, as well as Biden’s boundless willingness to sacrifice the life and freedom of millions of Europeans to the tyrant and aggressor, turned the American president’s “position of strength” into detestable submission, and his planned triumphal march to Geneva into a “stable and predictable” as well as humiliating road to Canossa.

Joe Biden by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Andrei Illarionov

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