What we have witnessed this week is the most profound reset of global diplomatic relations in recent times. A meeting between leaders of the two most militarily powerful countries in a way sets the clock back into the past which significantly could be a pointer to the future global dispensation.
US President Joe Biden met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a quaint lakeside mansion, Villa Le Grange, in Geneva on June 16. If nothing else, the summit meeting between the leaders of the two most powerful countries brings in existence the global order as it was in the Cold War period.
Immediately following the Second World War, the world was cut up in two halves— the democratic free world and the world behind what Winston Churchill had described as the Iron Curtain.
They were competing with each other to prove the merits of a free democratic order vis-a-vis the closed Communist order behind the Iron Curtain. Their mutual suspicion and competition had spawned the nuclear war threat with arms stockpiling by the competing blocs. However, the armed preparedness had also drawn the red lines which were respected willy nilly.
In between, the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union had collapsed. With that, the taut standoff dissolved and slowly but steadily, Russia drifted into comparative insignificance. We had started talking in terms of a unipolar world.
This was eventually disputed with the arrival of Vladimir Putin as the absolute ruler of Russia. He asserted Russian supremacy and capabilities in ways which had created uncertainty and instability.
This was inversely articulated by the new US President Joe Biden when he said that all he wanted in US-Russia relations was “predictability and stability”. The Biden-Putin summit in Geneva on Wednesday can be credited with bringing a modicum of these desirable attributes in the relations between the two. Thus history was created, of sorts.
At the same time, history never repeats itself. Notwithstanding the deep fissures and suspicions between Russia and America in today’s world, they are not exactly locked up in a nuclear warheads competition. They are looking for ways to collaborate.
Joe Biden once said in course of his interaction with a chaotic press that the US and Russia were two most powerful countries. This summit and US recognition of Russia as the other power in the room at once cuts China down a notch or two in the global hierarchy.
China has been posing as the true peer of America and it was placing itself as the other super power in the world. Now suddenly, Russia sweeps back from behind and starts being an equal of USA. Any progress in talks between the two leaders would be detested by China, which had sought to forge a new special relationship with Russia.
In a way, Russia has already got what it could have asked for from a summit with the US President. Of late, US has been describing Russia as a regional power and not being in the same league as the United States. This had hit Russian president Vladimir Putin’s pride to no end. Now that he was meeting the US President on a platform of equality, Putin has achieved a good part of his strategy.
On the part of the American President, he had put the bar very low for outcomes from his meeting with the Russian president. All he was interested in was a “predictable” behaviour from Russia instead of unprovoked actions upsetting the established order.
Russian invasion of Ukraine, snatching away Crimea from Ukraine and making it part of Russia, wanton attacks in Syria, interference in US elections and scores of other actions by the Russian State like internment of its opposition leader, Alexander Navalny, or repression of dissent with the state, were what had drawn American ire.
Both the leaders are practical enough to realise that summit cannot be expected to create an atmosphere of bonhomie. Biden had earlier described Putin as a ‘man without a soul’. He had severely criticised Russian actions.
The expectations about outcomes are so low, and the US trust in Russia and its President is so shaky that the summit will not follow what happens usually after such an event.
Views are personal