U.S. experts assess likelihood and usefulness of such a summit meeting
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Tuesday, stressing the U.S. unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and urging Russia to reduce tensions, the White House press office said.
According to an official White House statement, Biden expressed concern about Russia’s build-up of forces in occupied Crimea and on the border with Ukraine.
Biden also made clear that the United States will act “firmly” to defend its national interests in response to Russian actions, such as cyberattacks and election interference.
He also reiterated that he is committed to building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with U.S. interests and suggested that Putin hold a summit in the coming months in a third country to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia.
According to a White House press release, the two leaders discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the U.S. and Russian intention to maintain a strategic dialogue on arms control issues and security concerns, continuing the efforts that led to the extension of the START III Treaty.
U.S. Expert Opinion
According to Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, the main message of President Biden’s conversation with Vladimir Putin today, according to a White House report, was the U.S. desire for a “stable and predictable relationship” with Russia.
“Russia’s renewed attempts to influence elections (in the United States), its troop build-up in Ukraine and near its borders, and other actions (by Moscow) are unfortunately predictable, but they are not the basis for stability. “Biden was clear about that during the conversation, and he’s going to lean on a consistent strategy,” Graham Brooke said in a commentary to Voice of America’s Russian Service.
The White House and Kremlin have offered very different interpretations of the two leaders’ conversations, points out David Kramer, a senior Florida International University scholar, former undersecretary of state, and president of Freedom House.
The Kremlin statement speaks of an “internal Ukrainian crisis,” although, as Kramer points out, the crisis has been created and continues to be fueled by Russia, which has flagrantly violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The White House statement confirms its “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, mentions Russian cyber invasions and interference in U.S. elections, while the Kremlin statement makes no mention of this at all, the expert notes.
However, both statements, as the analyst noted in a commentary to the Russian service of the Voice of America, talk about the possibility of a U.S.-Russian summit in the coming months.
“How, given all of Putin’s responsibility and the situation with Ukraine and Navalny, can we talk about a summit between the two leaders?” – asks David Kramer, recalling that Putin is also responsible for meddling in the U.S. election, the poisoning of Navalny and the crackdown on Radio Liberty in Russia.
“Talking to Putin about this is not an option; Putin understands only force and fist,” the expert says, and expresses hope that President Biden will not take the “fruitless path” of persuasion in building relations with Moscow.
Kramer also expressed regret that in his phone conversation with Putin President Biden did not raise the issue of releasing Alexey Navalny, who remains behind bars.
Moscow is likely trying to scare Kyiv and send a message to Washington that it is unlikely it is planning an invasion of Ukraine, said Paul Saunders, a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest and a research scholar at the Naval War Policy Center (CNA).
“A meeting between President Biden and his Russian counterpart could help reduce tensions if Biden can be clear and specific about not only the potential costs of escalation, but also what Russia might gain if it tries to stabilize its relations with the U.S. and other NATO allies,” the expert says, “Harsh rhetoric and vague threats are unlikely to affect Putin, and may even make things worse if it reinforces the Russian leadership’s sense that America is hostile and weak at the same time.
According to Agnia Grigas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of “More Than Crimea: The New Russian Empire,” the Biden administration is generally focused on deterring Russian interference in elections, cyberattacks, and direct challenges to U.S. democracy and foreign policy interests.