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IFANS Focus An Analysis of the Biden-Putin Summit LEE TaeRim Upload Date 2021-07-27 Hits 144
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On June 16, 2021, a summit between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin was held in Geneva, Switzerland. The summit came as President Biden proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart in a third country in April when tensions between the Ukrainian and Russian governments over the Donbas region escalated. As U.S.-Russia relations have been deteriorating for many years, and a set of new sanctions against Russia have been drafted since President Biden took office with harsh rhetoric souring high-level officials, there have been many expectations and concerns about the summit.

As those in the two countries’ foreign policy teams publicly reiterated, the Biden-Putin summit did not lead to breakthroughs or a big deal in their bilateral relations. However, it is meaningful that the two nuclear powers agreed to establish a framework of dialogue that had been stalled for years and identified areas of cooperation and a red line. Immediately after the meeting, the two heads of state also said that they deem the summit “constructive.”

Some agreement has been reached on the agendas that the two sides share common interests, including returning ambassadors to their posts, re-launching of a bilateral strategic stability dialogue, and joint working-level consultation to fight against cybercrime. In particular, it is meaningful that the two countries have decided to restore bilateral consultation channels for strategic stability and discuss alternative measures within the dialogue framework after the New Strategic Weapon Reduction Agreement (New START) that will end in five years.     
    
Additionally, the two heads of state discussed the Iran nuclear agreement and the Afghan issue, a prisoner exchange deal, bilateral cooperation in the Arctic region, and expansion of bilateral trade. President Biden asked President Putin to help address Iran’s nuclear issue and combat terrorism in Afghanistan and underscored that President Putin showed a willingness to cooperate.
    
However, it appears that the two sides showed different views on the Donbas conflict, Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, the issues of Belarus and Navalny, and solutions to the Syrian problems. Although detailed discussions on the Ukraine issue have not been disclosed, some American Russia experts criticize President Biden because he did not clarify his stance on the issue.     
    
There are several takeaways from the Biden-Putin summit. Above all, the summit showed a new possibility of dialogue between the two heads of state that have disappeared since 2014. Under the premise that there are differences on numerous pending issues, the two sides showed Cold War-style diplomatic manners that the two sides respect each other as legitimate counterparts. 
    
President Biden’s description of Russia and the U.S. as “the two great countries” and “two powerful counties” at the summit also drew much attention. This accounts for more than half of President Putin’s achievements yielded during the summit, giving Moscow a good cause for cooperation in the coming years. As it is known that former U.S. President Obama’s portrayal of Russia as a “regional power” provoked Russia and led Moscow to develop a more aggressive and expansionary foreign policy stance, President Biden’s approach seems contrasted with Obama’s.
    
As President Biden underscored, the summit’s purpose is to establish a stable and predictable relationship between the two nuclear powers and minimize Russian “variables” by stabilizing bilateral relations to focus better on checking a rising on China. 
    
It has yet to be known whether the two heads of state discussed the China issue at the summit. However, China called the summit an attempt to drive a wedge between China and Russia. It is anticipated that the summit will likely empower the Russian elite with concerns over a tile toward China to be more outspoken about the need to strike a balance by improving Russia’s relations with the West. What matters most will likely be Russia’s strategic choices and the U.S.’corresponding compensations. Of course, widespread anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S. should not be overlooked. However, efforts to improve relations with Russia are likely to continue as the Biden administration has clarified the direction of “containing China” as the previous administration did.
    
It is assessed that the Biden-Putin summit and the ensuing stabilization of U.S.-Russia relations will likely affect the strategic environment for Korean diplomacy significantly.
    
The deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Russia and deepening Russia-China ties stunted the Korean government’s efforts to implement the New Northern Policy and resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile problems. However, as the U.S. and Russia agreed to cooperate on the issues with common interests, it is time for the Korean government to devise a strategy to forge cooperation between the U.S. and Russia on the North Korean nuclear issue.


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