Biden-Putin Summit: rhetoric & realpolitik

18 Jun

On June 15, a day before the Biden-Putin summit two days ago, Moon of Alabama considered two corporate media explanations for there being no joint news conference afterwards …

  • the US did not want to elevate Putin, and/or
  • Putin might score points off Biden, 78, and exhausted by his eight-day European trip

… before opining that a senile Biden might ruin the spin his minders want to put on the summit.

So what, asks Moon of A, did America’s deep state want from that summit? Answering his own question he offers two things:

  1. Bent on containing China’s economic rise by all and any means – which is why the world is now so dangerous – some US strategists recognise that Washington policy post Yeltsin – in particular since Obama’s 2012 Pivot to East Asia – has done what a smart five year old could have foreseen, and strengthened ties between Beijing and Moscow. Put simply, the summit as viewed in Washington is a wedge-driving exercise.
  2. With Russia’s latest strategic weapon systems enabling a first strike on the US, a new arms agreement is needed by Washington.1

Moon-of says neither is achievable when influential US foreign policymakers, still misjudging the strength both of Eurasia’s rise and Russia’s defence capability, want the summit to fail.

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On the first aim, containing China, Moon-of quotes at length from an essay2 by Michael Brenner, Professor of International Affairs at Pittsburgh University:

Biden, long the absentee overseer of Ukraine under Obama, backed a plan to put an end to the secessionist, Russified provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk in the Donbass. It was seen as a way to discipline Putin whose interference in Syria and bloody-minded actions elsewhere irritated American policy-makers, to complete Russia’s isolation (along with an overthrow of the Belarus government), and to solidify NATO/EU control of the European continent. Washington expanded its arming and training of Ukraine’s army and militias (including the neo-Nazi Azov battalion3), gave President (and ex-comedian) Zielenski the green light to move his military to the contact line, and led an orchestrated denunciation of Russia and all its work, loudly reinforced by the ever-obedient chorus of European dependents. Biden himself struck the tone in declaring Putin a ‘killer.’ It was classic coercion via military intimidation – although hardly classic in insulting your opponent unless you follow up with a bugle call for attack. The entire project is now in ruins – a miserable failure. The ‘why’ carries heavy – if unrecognized – lessons.

The Kremlin had given clear signs it would no longer turn the other cheek to what it saw as hostile, belittling Western moves. The eastward expansion of NATO right to Russia’s border, the Washington approved Georgian assault on South Ossetia by US trained and advised forces, the color revolutions culminating in the American instigated Nuland coup in Kiev that toppled a democratically elected President, undocumented accusations of meddling in the tranquil waters of American politics, repeated sanctions, the relentless campaign to sabotage Nordstrom II etc. etc. Those clear signs were ignored, as are all other facts that don’t conform with the self-serving, self-deluding Washington narrative. There, gross misinterpretations of conditions in Russia prevail.

They truly believe Navalny4 the great white hope when in truth his modest support lies only among the liberal intelligentsia of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Putin’s popularity, especially on relations with the West, is undiminished. The public fully backs him – and he is at the soft end of a continuum among the political elites, including officials in his government. His response to renewed threat in the Donbass was quick and decisive. He deployed 75,000 heavily armed units with aerial support to the border, while Lavrov stated baldly that any offensive by the Ukrainians would be met with overwhelming force, and that would mean the destruction of the current Ukrainian regime.

The United States and its allies had no counter; they had to back down. Within days, Biden made an impromptu call to ‘killer’ Putin calling for a relaxing of tensions while looking forward to stable, predictable relations between their two countries. That week, Blinken flew to Kiev to bluntly tell Zielenski to call it all off. If that meant throwing him to the ultra-nationalist wolves in Kiev, he always had his comedian gig to fall back on. Great power politics as burlesque!

There was a dawning awareness that contending with a fully aroused Russia, in Europe and elsewhere, was no piece of cake. Ergo the USA should not be conducting all-out ‘Cold War’ with China and Russia simultaneously. With China much the greater challenger to American global hegemony, working out a tacit modus vivendi, or at least a ceasefire, with Moscow was called for. That should have been obvious this past 12 years to anyone with a strategic brain. Instead, America’s leaders had done everything possible to solidify a Sino-Russian alliance, as has materialized in a ‘strategic partnership’ which grows in strength and confidence by the day

Abject failure in Ukraine (simultaneously with the thwarted attempt to overthrow Lukashenko in Belarus) shook Washington’s unbounded self-confidence enough for it to recognize the error of its ways.

A series of moves in Europe signalled the intention to change course. The announced dispatch of a naval battle group to the Black Sea was summarily cancelled, pressure on Germany to prevent the completion of Nordstrom II lifted, and plans for a Ukraine attack on the Donbass dumped. Biden clearly intends [the Geneva summit] as paving the way for a tempering of the hostility between Washington and Moscow. The hope is that such gestures, combined with a professed readiness to work together on a few contentious issues, can mollify Russia. That could in turn cool its enthusiasm for Beijing – allowing the US to focus on its struggle for global supremacy with China.

The ploy is doomed to failure.

It’s hard to fault that last when not only Russia’s leadership, Putin and Lavrov in particular, but China’s CCP too show every sign – to those who trouble to study them at source as opposed to swallowing whatever Guardian, Telegraph and BBC say of them – of great intelligence backed by their countries’ greater systemic capacity to think long term. Says Moon of Alabama:

the last 30 years show that Russia can absolutely not trust Washington, whatever it might promise. Its partnership with China though is solid.

He then cites a New York Times piece, a few days earlier on June 11, in line with Brenner’s take:

Charles A. Kupchan, a professor at Georgetown University who worked on European affairs in the Obama administration, said Mr. Biden’s goal was to head off the creation of a Sino-Russian bloc against the West. That will require the help of allies, which is why he predicted Mr. Biden would not only listen to, but hear, the Europeans.

That last is a reference to Europe’s growing unease at being caught in the middle. A Merkel-led Europe still sees little option but to back Washington. But the latter’s trade wars, sanctions and arm-twisting over Nordstream5 come at high cost by both long term geopolitical and short term business reckonings, leaving the junior imperialisms far from content.

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Moving to the second aim, Russia’s first strike capability, Moon-of cites Russia watcher Gilbert Doctorow from a May 30 piece, A reductionist approach to the … Biden-Putin summit …

Why is Joe Biden pressing ahead with a meeting so early in his tenure in office? We are told that the objective is to achieve “greater stability” in bilateral relations. But I have not heard from our commentators what stability is to be addressed

In my reductionist approach, the summit has one driver: to put a cap on an arms race the US is losing, if it has not already lost, and to prevent the adverse shift in the strategic balance from getting still worse. A side benefit would be to strike down planned military expenditures budgeted for well over a trillion dollars to modernize the nuclear triad alone. This would free funds for the massive infrastructure investments Biden is trying to push through Congress

Since the 2002 US withdrawal from the ABM treaty under George Bush, US policy had aimed at enabling a first strike knocking out Russian ICBMs and then rendering useless Russia’s residual nuclear forces, which could be shot out of the air by US anti-ballistic missile systems. But Russia’s new, maneuverable and ultra-high speed missiles could evade all known ABMs. According to Putin’s text in March 2018, the new Russian strategic arms relegated the hundreds of billions America has invested in achieving superiority to the status of a modern day Maginot Line. Whatever Washington could throw at Russia, the residual Russian forces would penetrate American defenses and wreak havoc on the American homeland.

Interjects Moon of Alabama:

Russia’s new weapons are something Washington can only dream of. Announced in 2018 the new systems are now being introduced in frontline units. US weapon development is at least ten years behind Russia’s. Nuclear parity has been restored (vid).

Some of Russia’s new system do not fall under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty. If the US does not manage to achieve a new agreement with Russia that limits its new weapon systems, Russia could soon achieve first strike capability. This would be an existential threat to the US. The Pentagon is surely not happy about the situation.

That Biden needs to get a new strategic arms agreement as fast as possible may indeed be the reason why the summit is happening so early.

Unfortunately a success, says Doctorow, is far from guaranteed.

Doctorow again:

Mutual respect is what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has demanded as a starting point for diplomatic negotiations with the Americans. Respect is not conferred on an interlocutor “from a position of strength,” the typical American approach to such talks.The problem for Washington is that no one on Capitol Hill or in the foreign policy community wants to acknowledge the obvious facts about Russia today. Everyone is happy with the vision of a slovenly, chaotic Russia ruled by a merciless dictator, whose regime is fragile and just needs a little push, like Nicholas II’s autocracy, to tilt over and collapse. This is rubbish and if it remains the foundation of US policy towards Russia under Biden then we can expect nothing much to happen to reduce the dangers of nuclear war or move towards calmer waters in international relations.

As for those who never did want the summit to succeed, Moon-of cites former US Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker, who wrote on June 2:

It is not in the interests of the US, the EU, NATO, and other allies to see a summit in which Putin leaves convinced he has blunted the USA … It would send a signal globally that authoritarians can get away with aggressive acts at home and abroad, and that the US and the West will not take any meaningful action to stop them …

For the US … the best outcome is not one of modest agreements and a commitment to “predictability,” but one of a lack of agreements altogether. Success is confrontation.

Moon-of then looks to Canadian professor Paul Robinson – who, having “taken aim at such lunacy”, reminds me why I call the West’s ruling classes, America’s above all, the criminally insane:

You might say this is just one guy’s opinion … It doesn’t mean anything. But Volker isn’t just some guy. From 2017 to 2019, he was the US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations – in effect America’s point guy for … a peace settlement for that country’s civil war. On the basis of this article, one shudders to think what advice he was giving the Ukrainian government. Certainly not advice conducive to peace … This article is a window into the way that an influential part of the American foreign policy establishment thinks. It rejects negotiation. It regards compromise as dangerous. It openly prefers conflict. “Success is confrontation” – the worse the better. Wow!

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  1. A discussion of why, on a fraction of the budget available to the Pentagon, Russia’s military capacity in some areas surpasses the USA’s, see my post of two years ago: Profit and the Arms Economy. Footnote 5 in particular.
  2. Brenner’s essay – undated but presumably written in late May or early June this year – appears not to be in the public domain. Moon-of Alabama introduces it, without a link or citation, as “published on his email list”.
  3. More on Ukraine’s Azov Battalion here. It’s one indicator of the Alice in Wonderland window on the world supplied by ‘our’ so-called quality media that the same liberals who fell for baseless denunciations of  ‘antisemitism’, magically arising in the Labour Party the moment Corbyn became leader, also cheered on a Maidan Square ‘colour revolution’ – remember Victoria Nuland’s “fuck the EU”? – which massively boosted antisemitism; the real kind.
  4. On Navalny, an FB comment I never tire of citing sums up perfectly the bankruptcy of Western opinion manufacturers, the credulity of their audiences and the sheer level of personal offensiveness on display: “Putin poisons water in hotel room. Navalny falls sick and is taken to Russian state hospital. Nobody kills him there, though a hospital is an easy place to do so. Doctors find no poison, the authorities approve his transfer to Berlin, where medics find novichok and accuse Russia. France agrees, the EU imposes sanctions. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?”
  5. The matter of US pressure on Germany over Nordstream is touched on in my February post, Europe’s growing dilemma.

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