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USA/Russia – Biden seeks ‘predictable, stable’ Russia relations in Putin meet (Joseph Stepansky, Al Jazeera)

United States President Joe Biden will cap off his European tour – his first foreign trip – with a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The highly anticipated summit, which the US began pursuing in April – days before announcing sanctions on Moscow and expelling diplomats over the Russian hacking of US federal agencies, “targeting dissidents or journalists”, and undermining security in the region – will be Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin as president.

It notably comes before Biden has met Chinese President Xi Jinping, underscoring the continued relevance and perceived threat of Moscow to Washington and its NATO allies even as the Biden administration continues to reorient US foreign policy towards Beijing in what many consider an emerging cold war.

In the days leading up to the meeting, the Biden administration has stressed a “dual policy of pushing back against Russia for its perceived misdemeanours, but at the same time talking about engaging”, said Richard Sakwa, a professor of politics at the University of Kent.

Increasing the urgency for Washington, he said, is the growing stance among some in Moscow that the US “is losing the geopolitical contest at the moment” which threatens to force Russia and China together.

Points of contention sure to top the US agenda will be so-called SolarWinds cyberattacks, the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 and 2020 US Presidential elections, the Russian troop buildup on the border of Ukraine and its continued occupation of Crimea, the militarisation of the Arctic, and the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

On Wednesday, arriving in the United Kingdom for the first leg of the foreign visit, Biden warned of “robust and meaningful consequences” if Russia engages in “harmful activities”.

He repeated that sentiment at the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, adding if Navalny dies, his “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 relations with the rest of the world, and me”.

The language is in line with what observers expect to be a wider messaging and optics mission that aims to strike a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s July 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

 

Then-US President Donald Trump extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018 [File: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo]

That meeting ended with a now-infamous joint news conference that saw Trump, in real-time, accept Putin’s denial of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election – a direct contradiction of the US intelligence community.

Meanwhile, Biden officials have in recent days sought to dispel criticism from some legislators and allies that the meeting is a reward for Putin, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan calling the summit “vital” in working towards “strategic stability so we can make progress on arms control and other nuclear areas”.

Brian Whitmore, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and host of the Power Vertical Podcast on Russian affairs, said in the widest sense, the Biden administration will be trying “to transform the relationship with Russia from what has been an unpredictable adversarial relationship into a predictable adversarial relationship”.

‘Personally assess’ the other leader

The White House and Kremlin have taken pains to lower expectations surrounding the summit, with officials from both countries repeating the mantra of “no breakthroughs, no illusions, no false expectations” said Robert Legvold, a Columbia University professor emeritus of political science.

He added that despite having a history of face-to-face meetings that dates back at least 20 years, the first meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin will largely be a recalibration.

“Each leader thinks they know the other leader well, but they need to update, and that may be as significant as anything else in terms of low expectations,” Legvold said. “That may not be positive. They may come away with the conclusion that ‘no, we’re not going to be able to do a lot of business’.”

Challenges to engagement remain myriad. The two leaders traded barbs when Biden, on being asked by a reporter in March, affirmed that he believes Putin is a “killer”.

In recent days, a Russian court designated opposition leader Navalny’s political movement an extremist network, a decision seen by many as meant to send a message that Moscow will not take cues from Washington on issues it considers domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has said Russia continues to maintain a large military presence along their shared border despite announcing a pullback in April.

Such realities underscore how difficult it will be for the Biden administration to make progress on its goals, particularly when Moscow may not see a more predictable relationship as working to its benefit, the Atlantic Council’s Whitmore said.

“I don’t think Russia wants a stable, predictable relationship,” he said. “I think the unpredictability of the relationship is actually Putin’s asymmetrical advantage.”

Possible cooperation

Still, with both sides uncomfortable with the Cold War-era low in relations, some observers believe there is a motivation to find at least some common ground.

While little is expected in concrete steps, an agreement to redeploy diplomats, including the US and Russian ambassadors, who have been called back to their home countries, is considered one possible outcome.

Other global issues like COVID-19 and climate change – with the US and Russia representing the number two and four top carbon emitters in the world, respectively – are seen as possible areas of cooperation.

Both countries may also be open to beginning conversations on further arms control frameworks, with Washington and Moscow having extended the so-called Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) this year.

University of Kent’s Sakwa said, with some luck, the meeting could follow the pattern of the summit between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts in Alaska in March, which saw initially harsh words give way to two hours of “very constructive discussions”.

While both parties are entering the meeting with “open eyes”, he added: “I do think that this is good faith engagement.”

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USA/Russia – Biden suggests ‘autocrat’ Putin’s Russia might be weaker than it seems (Euractiv)

US President Joe Biden at the leaders welcome during the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, Britain, 11 June 2021. Britain hosted the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Cornwall from 11 to 13 June 2021. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

US President Joe Biden said on Sunday (13 June) that “autocrat” Vladimir Putin was right to say that relations were at their lowest point in years though he suggested that Russia might be weaker than it seemed and that Moscow had overreached in the Middle East.

Biden used the G7 summit in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay to argue that the world’s richest democracies now faced an existential contest with “autocrats” that would define the 21st Century.

After attending a NATO summit on Monday, Biden will meet Putin on 16 June in Geneva for a meeting that promises to be a combative encounter after disputes over spying, hacking, election meddling, Ukraine, Belarus and human rights.

Biden, who called the former KGB spy a killer in March, cast Russia as engaging in unacceptable behaviour on a range of fronts but also pointed to Russia’s own “dilemmas” – its post-Soviet economic collapse, what he called overreach in Syria and problems with COVID-19.

Asked why Putin, who has served as Russia’s paramount leader since Boris Yeltsin resigned in 1999, had not changed despite years of Western sanctions, Biden quipped: “He’s Vladimir Putin”.

“Autocrats have enormous power and they don’t have to answer to a public and the fact is that it may very well be if I respond in kind, as I will, that it doesn’t dissuade him – he wants to keep going,” Biden said of Putin.

The two former Cold War foes have had a turbulent relationship for years though relations soured after Putin sought to rebuild some of the clout lost in the chaotic 1991 Soviet collapse and began meddling far beyond Russia’s borders.

US and other Western leaders now see Putin and Xi Jinping’s China as their main strategic threats, though the Kremlin dismisses as fiction almost all allegations against Russia and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.

The West casts Russia as a dictatorial kleptocracy governed by a mercurial elite that has involved itself in irresponsible escapades such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, attempts to meddle in US and European elections, and a series of high-profile espionage and assassination attempts abroad.

Russia says Putin is democratically elected.

Russian ‘dilemmas’

Biden, though, depicted Russia – whose economy is 13 times smaller than the United States – as weaker than it might be perceived.

“Russia has its own dilemmas, dealing with its economy, dealing with COVID and dealing with not only the United States and Europe writ large, and in the Middle East,” he said.

“Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms, but they have also bitten off some real problems, that they’re going to have trouble chewing on,” Biden said.

Biden cited Syria as a case in point and an area in which the two powers could work together to find “an accommodation”.

Asked about a Russian statement that Moscow would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington followed suit, Biden said that was a good sign and “progress.”

Biden said Putin was right that relations were at a low.

“He’s right it’s a low point,” Biden said.

Biden said he had told Putin before being elected he would look at whether the Russian leader had been involved in trying to interfere with the US election.

“I checked it out, so I had access to all the intelligence, he was engaged in those activities,” he said.

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USA/Russia – US sanctions on Russia’s sovereign debt formally come into force on Monday (TASS)

The US sanctions on a number of transactions with Russia’s sovereign debt, announced back in April, formally come into force on Monday.

It concerns the next package of anti-Russian restrictions, the US administration announced on April 15. Washington also specified the terms of their entry into force.

US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to impose sanctions on Russia on April 15. Particularly, the United States prohibits its companies from directly acquiring Russian debt liabilities issued by the Central Bank, the National Wealth Fund and the Finance Ministry after June 14, 2021.

In addition, the administration noted, American financial institutions are prohibited from lending ruble or non-ruble funds to these three organizations. The restrictions extended the existing bans on Russian sovereign debt transactions, which have been in effect since August 2019.

At that time, American banks were prohibited from buying Russian non-ruble debt government bonds on the primary market and from providing non-ruble loans to the Russian authorities. Now the American authorities have banned them from participating in the primary placements of new issues of Russian ruble government bonds. It concerns securities issued after June 14, 2021. The current ban applies only to newly issued ruble sovereign debt obligations on the primary market, but not on the secondary market and not on existing holders of sovereign debt obligations.

Impact of new sanctions

In April, a number of experts interviewed by TASS said that the impact of the new sanctions on the ruble would not last long. Then the Russian stock market reacted to the restrictions rather calmly. Experts pointed out that Washington introduced milder restrictions compared to the expected tough response from the Washington administration – a complete ban on any actions related to the release of the Russian national debt. In this case, American investors would be forced to sell the securities they now have.

In April, Executive Vice-President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Alexander Murychev told TASS that the imposition of sanctions on Russia’s state debt will not cause big problems.

According to him, if banks lack liquidity, they will be able to obtain the necessary resources from the Bank of Russia.

Murychev also noted that in his opinion, those companies that have invested in the Russian economy are unlikely to refuse to work in the Russian Federation.

In turn, Russia’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that the US sanctions against the country’s sovereign debt make it possible to speak of a loss of profits for the US financial institutions, since Russian investors prevail in the structure of the federal loan bonds. According to him, there are enough instruments in the financial market of Russia to strengthen stability, they will be used if necessary. Siluanov stressed that the temporarily free funds in the single treasury account (in the amount of more than four trillion rubles – $55 bln) provide sufficient flexibility in this regard.

In addition, as the international rating agency Moody’s said in its April commentary, Russia’s high financial reserves will enable the country to cope with the negative effect of the sanctions.

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USA/Russia – Biden to notify NATO allies about his coming agenda with Putin (TASS)

US President Joe Biden will notify his colleagues from NATO member countries about the agenda of his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Biden’s National Security Assistant Jake Sullivan told a press briefing.

“And then, of course, there’s the consultation on Russia. He’ll have the opportunity to speak to all of the Allies about what he intends to talk to Putin about. He’ll do that behind closed doors. So, they get both to hear from him about his intentions with respect to the summit, and he gets to hear from them as well, so that he will go into Geneva with the full support and solidarity of all of our NATO Allies,” Sullivan said.

He noted that Biden plans to touch on Russian issues at a bilateral meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

“They will also have the chance to consult on the big powers – China and Russia – as well,” Sullivan said.

He confirmed earlier statements of other US official who said that the agenda of talks between Erdogan and Biden would also include issues of bilateral relationship, “as well as a number of important regional issues, from Syria, to Libya, to the eastern Mediterranean.”

The 32nd NATO summit, which is to take place in Brussels on June 14 with the participation of US President Joe Biden, will become the shortest one over the last 20 years. It will last one day and consist of only one working session that will last approximately 2.5 hours. NATO summits usually last two days and include 3-4 working sessions on various issues. On the second day, the alliance’s leaders traditionally hold one of the sessions with the leaders of the NATO partner countries. However, there will be no such session this year.

Earlier, Kremlin and the White House reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June 16.

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USA/Russia – US wants to cooperate with Russia on strategic stability, Syria and Arctic – White House (TASS)

The United States believes it could work with Russia on strategic stability, humanitarian access in Syria, issues related to Arctic, and a number of other areas, Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the US President, told reporters on Sunday. The transcript of the conversation was published by the White House press service.

According to him, the United States is considering the possibility of interaction with Russia in a number of areas, if this is in the interests of both sides. At the same time, Washington reserves the right to “send a clear message” to Moscow about “those harmful actions” of the Russian side, Sullivan said.

“We will see where we get. There’s the question of strategic stability. There’s the question of Syria and humanitarian access. There are issues related to the Arctic. There are other places where it would be in our interest to find a basis to work with Russia,” Sullivan said.

Earlier, Kremlin and the White House reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden will meet in Geneva on June16.

According to the Kremlin press service, the two presidents will discuss the current state of Russian-US relations and their prospects for development, strategic stability, as well as current issues of the international agenda, including cooperation in combating the coronavirus pandemic. It will be the first personal meeting between the two leaders since Biden took office.
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Analysis

Russia – The Costs of Weaponizing Russian and Western Diplomatic Expulsions (Heather A. Conley, Roksana Gabidullina, CSIS)

The Costs of Weaponizing Russian and Western Diplomatic Expulsions | Center for Strategic and International Studies (csis.org)

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Analysis

Japan/Russia – Japan’s Russia Policy Under Prime Minister Suga (James D J Brown, RUSI)

Yoshihide Suga during his first press conference as prime minister of Japan

Japan’s Russia Policy Under Prime Minister Suga | RUSI

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Georgia – Georgia Bids Farewell to Soviet Arms (Beka Chedia, The Jamestown Foundation)

Georgia’s Defense Minister Juansher Burtchuladze reported to parliament on May 13 that his country would start producing American M4 assault rifles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in 2022. According to his statement, negotiations are underway with South African, Polish and Israeli companies on joint production of unmanned aerial vehicles, with the first drones produced early next year (EkhoKavkaza, May 13).

Georgia Bids Farewell to Soviet Arms – Jamestown

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Russia – Russia’s Approach to Nuclear Power in Outer Space (Pavel Luzin, The Jamestown Foundation)

Russia has been conducting research and development (R&D) on using nuclear power in outer space for years. On May 22, Alexander Bloshenko, executive director for advanced programs and science of Roscosmos, announced that the first mission of the nuclear-powered spacecraft, also known as the transport and energy module (TEM), is scheduled for 2030 (TASS, May 22).

Russia’s Approach to Nuclear Power in Outer Space – Jamestown

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Analysis

Russia – Russian Military Considers New Electronic Warfare Aircraft (Roger McDermott, The Jamestown Foundation)

Moscow has made considerable advances in recent years in procuring and developing electronic warfare (EW) capability throughout its branches and service arms in the Armed Forces.

Russian Military Considers New Electronic Warfare Aircraft – Jamestown