Russian President Vladimir Putin gives the 16th annual end-of-year press conference via video link to the World Trade Center.

Sergei Bobylev | TASS | Getty Images

When President Joe Biden meets Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in June, it will be one of the most closely watched summits of the year.

However, there are doubts as to whether the summit can achieve much, given the poor state of relations.

And not everyone is excited about the upcoming summit, especially because of the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia’s support for Belarus after its Russian neighbor diverted a commercial flight so Minsk could arrest a prominent critic of President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday.

Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was a proponent of the Biden-Putin summit. In a statement, the Nebraska Republican asked, “Are we rewarding Putin with a summit?”

“Putin has arrested Alexei Navalny and his puppet Lukashenko hijacked a plane to get Roman Protasevich. Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we are giving him his cherished Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimizing his actions a peak is weak. “

Both the US and Russia made terse statements on Tuesday to announce the summit and showed no keen anticipation for the event – perhaps not surprising given the strained relations between the two nuclear powers.

“The heads of state and government will address the full range of pressing issues to restore the predictability and stability of US-Russia relations,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, in a brief statement.

At a press conference, Psaki was asked by several journalists what kind of message Biden’s meeting with Putin was sending to US opponents, but she insisted that the summit was not a “reward” for Russia. Rather, she said, “This is how diplomacy works, we don’t just meet with people when we are in agreement. It is important to meet with leaders when we have a number of disagreements, as we do with the Russian leader. “

Win for Moscow

Analysts say the summit, due to take place in Switzerland on June 16, will be presented as a victory for Moscow.

“The Russian state media will shoot the Putin-Biden Summit in a way that underscores Russia’s status as a great power and its indispensable role in addressing various global challenges,” said Andrius Tursa, Advisor on Central and Eastern Europe at Teneo Intelligence. opposite CNBC on Wednesday.

“Despite several points of contention between Moscow and Washington, the Kremlin is likely to reaffirm its narrative of being a constructive international actor on the global stage, often treated unfairly by the West.”

The summit will be Putin’s first overseas visit since January 2020, and one Tursa noted gave Putin “high profile visibility” ahead of the September State Duma elections.

For Biden, however, the meeting comes shortly after a series of geopolitical summits in Europe, the G7 from June 11-13 in the UK and a NATO summit in Belgium on June 14.

However, Daragh McDowell, Head of Europe and Principal Analyst for Russia at Verisk Maplecroft, noted that the summit was mutually beneficial.

“There is of course a domestic political advantage for Putin at the summit, which is used to portray Russia as a great power on a par with the US. The same advantages, however, also apply to Biden, who can contrast his behavior with the President Trump is at the summit in Helsinki in July 2018 to strengthen its domestic image and reassure US allies. ‘

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Russia will not attend either the G7 or NATO meetings. After the annexation of Crimea, it was suspended by the then G-8 in 2014. Similarly, NATO suspended all cooperation with Russia in response to its “aggressive actions” in Ukraine.

Even so, due to its poor relations with the Western world, Russia is likely to be on the agenda of both high-profile events after a series of crimes, meddles and violations of international law ranging from annexing Crimea to supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine the 2016 US elections, the 2018 UK nerve agent attack, involvement in the 2020 SolarWinds hack, and the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny. Russia denies all allegations.

There is also arms control, climate change and Covid-19 to be discussed. And more recently, suspicions that Russia may have given Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko the green light to force a commercial flight with an opposition activist, Roman Protasevich, to divert to Minsk, after which he was immediately arrested.

When asked whether it was appropriate to hold a summit now and sent the wrong message to the US allies, Tursa stated that “despite persistent suspicions, Russia’s involvement in the forced landing of a civilian aircraft in Belarus has not yet been proven “. and that it made sense for the Biden government to keep lines of communication with Moscow open.

“The US has clearly condemned the Belarusian actions and is reportedly preparing sanctions against the Alexander Lukashenko regime. After all, the Biden government has consistently implemented its stance on Russia and held Moscow accountable for its malicious activities without opening the door for political ones Close contacts and cooperation. ” other areas.”

Low confidence, low ambition

Still, there are question marks as to whether something substantial can be achieved between Putin and Biden, given the low level of trust between the leaders.

McDowell said there are “real areas of bilateral interest to Russia and the US where these summits can be helpful, particularly on nuclear weapons control”.

“However, other areas such as climate change, setting the rules of the game for online espionage and conflict, and minimizing the destabilizing effects of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan offer potential room for cooperation,” he added.

“Apart from that, there is too little trust and goodwill between Moscow and Washington for significant progress to be made outside of areas such as the limitation of nuclear weapons,” he said. This, in his view, was reflected in the Washington Declaration, which emphasized the restoration of “predictability and stability” as “a primary goal rather than” more ambitious goals “.

“While a breakthrough cannot be definitively ruled out, the purpose of the summit appears largely to be a summit, so that both sides can later claim that they have made good faith efforts to improve relations. It is indeed one Summit that is held like this. ” Either side can say that a summit has taken place, “he concluded.