Kumbaya and Crimea: the Biden-Putin Meeting in Geneva

Friday, June 18, 2021

Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, summer is quietly approaching. The freezing nights of winter have receded, and now we're having nice temperatures in the 70s and low 80s in the daytime. I've been spending a lot of my time on the house and buying novel items--who knew that a string trimmer is not for trimming strings?

Lava Lake, encore une fois
Moving house took up a lot of my time and energy in March-April, so I hadn't gotten outside so much--it didn't help that my bike was a shell of its former itself. But now my bike is in beautiful working order again I've been able to shake off a bit of the rust. 

With the arrival of warmer temperatures, there have also been some chances to get outside. Despite the mountains to the north, historic downtown Belgrade is a pretty flat area, good for bike riding. On the other hand, the bikeable area of Belgrade is smaller than what I had in Bozeman, so I tend to cover a lot of the same ground repeatedly. But there are lots of nice places to go outside in this part of Montana.

There was a fair bit of talk this week about Biden's meeting with Putin in Geneva. First, it doesn't really seem like "summit" should be the word to describe what happened. There didn't seem to be any expectation that any particular deal was to be worked out. Rather, this seems like an initial feeling out, something that didn't require an enormous amount of thought or organization given the fact that Biden is a relatively familiar figure and has met Putin before. The point of the exercise was, I think, largely to take the relationship's temperature and see if there's any reason to try to schedule a more ambitious summit in the future. 

It's not surprising that Vladimir Putin would be respectful in his post-meeting remarks, referring to Biden as a "professional," and "of sound mind," although frankly the latter comment seems like it might contain a touch of rather faint praise. 

Biden, for his part, reminded journalists that "this is not a kumbaya moment," which makes me wonder why it shouldn't be. Maybe pulling out a guitar, getting everyone to link arms and sit in a circle could help. When it comes to foreign policy, we've certainly tried some inferior alternatives. Just maybe come up with a better song. There's probably someone in Putin's retinue who could reciprocate with some perestroika-era tunes. 

None of this post-meeting nice talk is surprising because I think Putin's goal is normalization of relations with the West--just on his terms. So, the more meetings that Russia, post-Crimean annexation, can hold in a normal context with Europe and Washington without having to actually do anything is a win of sorts--at least for now. In this regard, there's probably even more value in meeting with a normal western politician like Joe Biden, as opposed to having your main interlocutor be someone with little credibility among most other western countries' leaders. 

The Crimea--and the oil and gas reserves surrounding it--obviously constitutes an issue of major importance to Moscow. Western recognition of Russian annexation of the peninsula is not going to happen anytime soon, but it might be possible in the meantime for Putin to convince at least some western leaders to begin forgetting about it. All of that oil and gas comes in handy, after all. 

Getting the sanctions lessened, and then removed, are Moscow's goals, but that's tall order. The waiting game needs to be accompanied by at least some form of incremental progress. In this respect, maybe trying to support DJT wasn't such a great idea, as it didn't result in the sanctions being lifted and has really poisoned Moscow's relationship with approximately half of this country. 

So for now I think that, from the perspective of Putin and the Russian government, just having normal meetings with normal western politicians is a good start down the road toward normalization, no matter what the tune they're walking to. 


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More commentary, photos, and links can be found in the Borderlands Lounge.  

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