The Putin-Biden Geneva Summit ended as expected: the leaders of the world’s two top nuclear powers met head-to-head and face-to-face, un-masked and discussed the issues affecting their nations’ bilateral ties.
Both with vast foreign policy experience and mutual respect for the fact that neither wants the post-pandemic world to be cast in the other’s shadow, they kept their eyes on the ball: fixing US-Russia ties, first and foremost.
The Geneva summit was entirely choreographed as the biggest show of President Biden’s first foreign trip that started with the G7 Summit, followed by a meeting with Queen Elizabeth, a NATO Summit in Brussels and tete-a-tetes with his European peers in the UK, Brussels and Geneva.
Biden, all out to repair the global damage done to US foreign policy by Trump in his four years at the White House, left Washington with his eight years as Vice President under his belt, intent on sending the message that ‘America is back!’ – and in charge — on the world stage: ready to cure the global COVID pandemic, to create a new Trans-Atlantic alliance against China and Russia while launching a new American global infrastructure project to counter Beijing’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) – and bring Vladimir Putin to heel.
The G7 Summit ended embracing Biden’s proposal for the world’s seven richest nations to contrib-ute one billion doses of COVID vaccines to countries in need, but slammed the door shut in his face on relaxing restrictions to increase world vaccine production by and for developing countries.
The NATO meeting ended with Biden assuring the North Atlantic military alliance that Washington is back on board — and ready to mend fences broken by Trump.
NATO’s hawkish outgoing Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was his usual self — drumming-up the chorus for a World War III.
But apart from Britain having dispatched its latest aircraft carrier ‘Queen Elizabeth’ to the South China Sea with US escorts, European nations didn’t take Biden’s bait, leaving him holding hook, line and sinker.
The two spoke for less time than expected and agreed to more than expected: clarifying positions, agreeing to disagree on strategic issues, but agreeing to preserve nuclear safety, cooperate on cyber security, counter resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan, reopen a ‘humanitarian corridor’ in Syria, address the Iran nuclear issue, cooperate in the Arctic Free Zone — and reappoint ambassadors to each other’s capital.
European and American press coverage revealed disappointments from the time the two presidents met, unmasked, shook hands and walked into their meeting without taking or responding to shouted questions.
A BBC commentator claimed the choreography was arranged to have Putin – who’d met the four previous US presidents – arrive at the venue first ‘because he likes to make American leaders wait…’
But the Russian leader still outmaneuvered his American counterpart by immediately hosting an hour-long post-summit press conference, where the world got his take first, on how the meeting went.
Biden did admit he followed Putin’s press conference and – like Putin of him — had nothing but good words for the Russian leader; and both said neither ‘pressured’ the other on anything.
Biden said ‘It wasn’t a Kumbaya moment’, but it was clear that when he and Putin looked into each other’s eyes, both saw a need to lower the temperature, mend fences and build bridges, first and foremost.
Neither mentioned China, which had reacted expectedly to the G7 Summit’s communique painting Beijing as the new bully on the European block, but steered clear of blasting cannons across any bows.
Indeed, China is key to the upcoming global Climate Change summit in Glasgow — and every G7 and European Union (EU) member-state places higher value on trade with Beijing than the ultimate cost of testing its military might anywhere.
Never mind all the bullish pre-summit media hype about Biden planning to ‘bring Beijing and Mos-cow to heel’, Washington’s European partners, while still helplessly hawkish on Putin, were none willing to embrace the shrilled calls for a new Cold War with China.
And when one reporter asked whether he’d press China on letting investigators revive the issue of how the COVID-19 virus happened, Biden responded that ‘China is working hard to be responsible about COVID…’ and ‘We need to find mechanisms together to detect and prevent the next pan-demic…’
Each president left the Geneva summit agreeing it was better to meet because meetings matter, both said they achieved their objectives – and neither bashed China.
And just as they boarded their executive jets back to Moscow and Washington, China on Thursday quietly blasted four astronauts into space to man its own Space Station, built with Russian cooperation and to be made available to other nations, just as Moscow is doing with its own, reminding the rest of the world that after recent trips to the Moon and Mars, China has long carved a permanent place in space.