Biden and Putin signaled an openness for substantive talk

By Robert Rosner | June 17, 2021

This article is part of a collection of expert commentaries on the Biden-Putin summit held in Geneva on June 16, 2021. To read other articles in the collection, click here.

The Biden-Putin summit amounted to a careful exercise—on both sides—in bounding possible escalation of US-Russia conflicts. It marked a return to an atmosphere that supports substantive discussions, carefully calibrated to avoid both histrionics and the kind of buffoonery that marked the Trump-Putin summit in 2018. The fact that the press conferences following the summit were held separately, and that Biden’s press conference was held second, suggested that the United States has learned from Putin’s desire to always have the last word. As a result, it’s a beginning that offers some opportunities for progress in US-Russia relations, perhaps most likely on secondary issues—such as reduced tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border—but probably not on the big issues such as nuclear disarmament and cyber warfare. The Biden administration had already signaled its unwillingness to be accommodating in the nuclear domain by its explicit refusal to rejoin the Open Skies Treaty in May of this year; and the revelation of the FBI’s successful seizure of bitcoins extorted by the DarkSide group from Colonial Pipeline indicates a significant willingness by the administration to move from cyber defense to offense. In this atmosphere of increasing unwillingness to “play nice,” the Biden-Putin summit suggested at least a willingness—on both sides—to talk, and to do so substantively.

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This article is part of a collection of expert commentaries on the Biden-Putin summit held in Geneva on June 16, 2021. To read other articles in the collection, click here.


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