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Video Call Between Putin And Biden: Will The “Spirit Of Geneva” Be Preserved?

December 8, 2021

On Tuesday, December 7, a video call took place between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joseph Biden. The meeting comes at a difficult, yet interesting and eventful period in bilateral relations. In recent weeks, the Russian-American agenda has combined elements of tension and hostility with a glimmer of hope. On the one hand, Russia has faced accusations of seeking to escalate the situation in Ukraine, which have been accompanied by a major campaign in the American media and threats of new sanctions. On the other hand, some of the most recent signals contain potential solutions to the problems of the Russian-American dialogue, including in the field of arms control.

A week before the meeting, Vladimir Putin clearly formulated Russia’s “red lines,” indicating the inadmissibility of deployment of strike weapons and hypersonic weapons in Ukraine. On November 18, the President set before Russian diplomats the task of developing “serious long-term guarantees” of Russia’s security at the western border, later explaining that he was referring to legal assurances. A general picture of the Russian approach to resolving the entire range of issues in bilateral relations, as well as in global and regional security, is taking shape.

During the talks on Tuesday, President Putin was also emphasizing comprehensive solutions. According to presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, the President noted that “at a time when Washington is worried about Russian troops on Russian territory, Moscow is concerned about its own security on a global scale.” A similar position is reflected in the statement published after the meeting on the Kremlin’s website, which underlines the importance of “preserving the ‘spirit of Geneva’ when considering bilateral relations and other problems arising between Russia and the United States.” Russia suggests approaching bilateral relations holistically, noting that “[our] alliance [during the Second World War] should serve as an example for building contacts and working together in today’s realities.”

It is too early to say that the United States shares Moscow’s approach. Nevertheless, as noted by the Russian side, both Presidents expressed their readiness to “instruct their representatives to enter into substantive consultations” regarding Russian concerns and the issue of guarantees. Presidential aide Ushakov elaborated on this idea, noting that Biden “promised his Russian counterpart to discuss Moscow’s concerns with US allies.” The fact that the American side will act in close coordination with allies and partners is also mentioned in the statement on the White House website.

During the talks, the Presidents touched upon information security issues. Russia’s reference to the parties’ “readiness to continue practical cooperation in criminal procedural and operational-technical areas of the fight against cybercrime” can be considered a positive signal. However, optimistic assessments should be approached with caution: “readiness” does not always lead to tangible results.

Besides, the Presidents discussed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear program, expressing hope for “solutions acceptable to all participants” within the framework of the renewed talks in Vienna.

Interestingly, the Russian-American Strategic Stability Dialogue is only briefly mentioned in the American statement and is not addressed at all in the much longer statement released by the Kremlin. This probably indicates that interaction in this area has reached the target level and no longer requires personal interventions of the Heads of State.

No breakthroughs have been achieved. Apparently, the decisions made are limited to the transfer of cooperation in certain areas to the working level. Yet, no one expected any breakthroughs. The very fact that Joseph Biden agreed to discuss the Russian idea of security guarantees seems to be the most significant and, probably, unexpected result of the last meeting. Perhaps it is in this decision that one can see the potential for a holistic solution to the problems of Russian-American relations. Whether these problems will be addressed is a question of the political will of both the Russian and American sides.

Further reading from PIR Center:

  • Security Index Occasional Paper № 7 (22), which analyzes the future of Russian-American arms control.
  • Security Index Occasional Paper № 10 (25), which evaluates the lessons from New START negotiations for arms control.
  • Security Index Occasional Paper № 11 (26) dealing with the military-technical aspect of arms control.
  • Article by Oleg Shakirov (in Russian) on the Russian-American resolution on information security.