Any meeting between the leaders of the United States and Russia is certainly significant and closely watched — and certainly more so when the occasion is the first for a new incumbent of either high office as is the case with president Joe Biden.
While the US leader is seasoned on the world stage from his decades on the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee and as vice president, he is fully aware of the stakes when he meets president Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16.
The days preceding the summit also mark president Biden’s first international trip, heading to the United Kingdom for the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, meeting Queen Elizabeth and heading to Brussels to attend a summit of leaders from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
Influence of Moscow on world affairs
Indeed, that the US-Russia summit is the last event on this trip should serve as a reminder that the Kremlin stands isolated from the G7 over Crimea and its support for the breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine, and Nato itself was primarily created to counter the powerful influence of Moscow on world affairs.
During the four-year term of the Trump administration, any discussions of substance were overshadowed by questions of whether the Kremlin exerted undue influence, covertly or overtly, on the then occupant of the White House.
Now, the agenda will be more substantial, including discussions of Moscow’s support for separatists in the Dom Bass regions of Ukraine, last month’s diversion of a Lithuania-bound flight by Russia-allied Belarus, and efforts by both nations to stem the coronavirus pandemic.
Whatever may emerge from the summit, its main significance is that it is the first top-level meeting between the two leaders, a face-to-face encounter that may be slightly awkward given that president Biden has expressed antipathy towards Putin and holds him responsible for a series of incidents in Europe where Russian agents allegedly used nerve agents and a bombing to advance Kremlin interests.
He has also said he will raise the issue of Russia’s crackdown of protesters and its arrest and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the US leader will want answers to questions over Moscow’s knowledge of the Solar Wind cyberattacks over recent months.
For its part, Russia is pushing its support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline into Europe, providing key natural gas supplies to Germany — with Washington saying it is a threat to both Poland and Ukraine and destabilises European energy supplies.