July 30, 2021

In Geneva, Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutine initiate a strategic dialogue at slow pace

A brief handshake, a polite smile, and the doors to the mansion closed. Joe Biden and Vladimir Poutine then took their places in a setting from another century: gilding and moldings under a high ceiling, library of old books with neat leather bindings, unreadable globe on a wooden base. Assisted by the heads of their diplomacy, Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov, the American and Russian presidents finally met face to face on Wednesday, June 16.

After several months of verbal escalation, American sanctions, mutual referrals of diplomats and heavy accusations, they calmly exposed their differences in the green setting of Villa La Grange, on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Geneva.

In contrast to the sports-type dramaturgy maintained by the media and commentators, the two presidencies had multiplied the warnings before the summit: we should not expect spectacular results. It was about addressing the issues that annoy “ in a rational and predictable manner “, Joe Biden said in an opening Wednesday, according to comments immediately posted online by the Kremlin.

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Limitation of nuclear weapons

The main advance at the end of the summit lies in the mutual desire to launch consultations on cybersecurity and strategic security – that is, the limitation of nuclear weapons. “Today we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”, is it written in a brief joint statement about the bilateral dialogue of strategic stability, officially initiated by the two countries. The quote echoes, almost to the word, a similar text published by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1985.

The intention will have to be translated into the facts. The two countries have in this area a “Special responsibility”, Vladimir Putin told the press. No details were given on the timing and scope of these consultations, planned between the foreign ministries and high-ranking military personnel.

The collapse of the architecture built since the 1970s, the appearance of unprecedented weapons of mass destruction and the advent of new nuclear powers make this Russian-American work indispensable, if not sufficient. The renewal for five years, at the beginning of February, of the New Start treaty by the Biden administration, welcomed by Vladimir Putin, was an expected first step. We must now address the militarization of space, the succession of the New Start treaty and that on intermediate nuclear forces (FNI). Other positive signals from this summit: the return of the ambassadors in the two capitals, and the prospect of a possible exchange of prisoners. Joe Biden notably cited the cases of Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, two former Marines.

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