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Biden-Putin Upcoming Summit: A Meeting of Substance or Merely a Photo-Op?

With much anticipation for the upcoming summit between President Biden and President Putin scheduled for June 16th, in Geneva, Switzerland, many observers ask: Will it be a meeting of substance or merely a photo-op?.

Undoubtedly, relations between Washington and Moscow have been adversarial in recent years. The two countries did not see eye to eye on a host of issues ranging from Ukraine and human rights, to cybersecurity and energy (Nord Stream 2). While these issues persist, both countries continue to accuse each other of domestic political interference.

I argue that United States – Russian relations for the past few decades have struggled to maintain some sort of an equilibrium. Whose fault is it? Is it the Russians’ fault? Is it the fault of American foreign policy? Those questions are hard to decipher; one needs, however, to delve deeper to assess the foundations on which United States – Russian relations were built in the last few decades.

What most observers agree upon is that the United States – Russian relations are now at their lowest point since the Cold War. A deep mistrust between Moscow and Washington now runs through their relations on all fronts. That mistrust is not new—it’s the old Cold War mistrust, thrusting the relationship into an intensifying geopolitical competition in different corners of the globe. Neither the United States nor Russia is likely to waiver from its current policies on a range of issues.

I believe the disconnect lies in Washington refusing to reflect on its policies toward Russia and how those policies are perceived on the other end. Said differently, the political illusion in Washington is that Moscow will eventually get accustomed to the United States dictating the terms. Washington therefore expects Moscow to reluctantly accommodate NATO’s expansion to Russia’s doorstep, which is delusional. Similarly, Russia has to promote the idea that the United States is up to no good and has bad intentions when it supports, for example, Ukraine and Georgia, Russia’s neighbors.

With this political cat-and-mouse game, both Russia and the United States continue to outmaneuver each other with no end in sight. The management of the United States – Russian relations requires a strategy, a well-thought-out plan, tactful diplomacy, and a policy that goes beyond photo-ops and exchanges of diplomatic niceties.

One thing is sure: For all the tensions, the United States and Russia must find a way to have a stable and predictable relationship. Will it work? Time will tell sooner than later…

David Oualaalou is a Geopolitical Consultant, Award Winning Educator, Veteran, Author, and former International Security analyst in Washington, D.C.

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