“If one phrase defines President Joe Biden’s approach to negotiating, it’s “all politics is personal.” When he uses that line, he aims to convey a rock-ribbed belief that finding what the other person can and can’t accept — be it a member of Congress from the other party or a foreign leader — will eventually lead to better relations and even mutually agreeable deals.
During a Wednesday press conference following his Geneva summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden showed once more that he puts a lot of faith in that approach. “All foreign policy is the logical extension of personal relationships,” Biden said. “It’s the way human nature functions.”
That’s not Biden saying all it takes to improve US-Russia relations is to have a one-on-one chat with Putin, although they did have a roughly 90-minute discussion. It meant, as he went on to explain, that because of that discussion, both men are now clear on what red lines not to cross as they seek to cooperate on arms control, cybersecurity, and more.
That outcome, in Biden’s mind, was worth the trip.
“What I’m saying is I think there’s a genuine prospect to significantly improve relations between our two countries without us giving up a single, solitary thing based on principle and our values,” he told reporters. “This is not just about self-interest. It’s about mutual self-interest.”
It’s the clearest distillation yet of how Biden thinks about foreign policy and diplomacy. Sure, there are constraints on what can be achieved, but the only way to make progress is to hear the other person out and find areas of common ground.”
“Knowing the long odds, even Biden acknowledged his bet might not pay off. “Let’s see what happens,” he said at his press conference. “I’m not confident [Putin] will change his behavior.”
Analysts share that skeptical view, saying that reiterating America’s stances won’t have much of an effect on Putin. “We can deliver a message, as other presidents have, but from the Russian perspective, they’ve heard this before,” said Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, DC.”
“Moscow has moved to ban the U.S. Embassy and consular offices from hiring Russian and third-country nationals as part of its retaliation to a set of new U.S. sanctions imposed over Russian interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and involvement in the SolarWind hack of federal agencies — activities Moscow has denied.
The U.S. ordered 10 Russian diplomats out, targeted dozens of companies and people and imposed new curbs on Russia’s ability to borrow money. Russia quickly retaliated by ordering 10 U.S. diplomats to leave, blacklisting eight current and former U.S. officials and tightening requirements for U.S. Embassy operations.
The U.S. Embassy warned that provision of emergency services to U.S. citizens in Russia may also be “delayed or limited due to staff’s constrained ability to travel outside of Moscow.”
It warned that it’s unable to answer any specific questions about Russian residency or Russian visas and strongly urged any U.S. citizen present in Russia who has an expired visa to depart Russia before the June 15 deadline set by the Russian government.
“We regret that the actions of the Russian government have forced us to reduce our consular workforce by 75%, and will endeavor to offer to U.S. citizens as many services as possible,” the embassy said.”
“We think that would be a mistake. Divorcing policy toward one country from policy toward the other not only distorts policy toward each country, it also leaves neglected, or perhaps unrecognized, the overarching challenge of the escalating strategic rivalry between the United States and the world’s two other most formidable military powers, whose polices are increasingly aligned.”
“As is increasingly true, Russia and China coordinate key elements of their policies toward the United States. This they do when, for example, they both support third countries hostile to the United States, conduct military exercises designed to deal with U.S. contingencies, and oppose norms undergirding the U.S.-backed liberal international order. Their cooperation complicates the U.S. response to either of them separately. Similarly, continued tensions with Russia and growing tensions with China fuel greater collaboration between the two. As they draw closer economically, technologically, militarily and diplomatically, and their cooperation in each of these spheres crosses new thresholds, their combined weight in East Asia and across Central Eurasia swells the challenge far beyond that posed by either alone.”
“Success requires subtlety and patience. A crude U.S. strategy designed to pull Russia away from China or drive wedges between them has no chance of success and would almost surely have the opposite effect. The two countries’ political systems, the character of their leaders, the complementarities between their economies, and the parallels in their foreign policy agendas create a natural basis for what they describe as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination.” But there are reasons—including historical grievances and strategic calculations—for the two to think twice about a wholesale alignment, and a nuanced U.S. policy designed to exploit this reality would minimize the risk that a “strategic partnership” will congeal into a hostile anti-U.S. alliance. Restored diplomatic engagement with Russia and a recalibrated sanctions regime crafted to resolve conflicts and not merely punish are first steps in creating strategic options for Russia beyond China.”
“the United States should eschew policies that could transform current tensions with China into a full-blown cold war. Here U.S.-Chinese interactions will obviously prove decisive. But improved relations with Russia could help reduce the risks. While Russia benefits from a certain degree of tension in U.S.-Chinese relations, in a cold war it would be under pressure to choose sides and thus sacrifice its strategic autonomy, a core element of national identity. Russian leaders will be loath to do so. Russia might have little direct influence over Chinese conduct, but improving U.S.-Russian ties and removing the incentives for Russian-Chinese strategic alignment would complicate Beijing’s calculus and could lead to less aggressive Chinese policies.”
“The approach to trilateralism should be diverse. Some issues may be better addressed through coordinated parallel bilateral discussions, such as areas of economic friction or some aspects of military competition. Some in trilateral formats, such as the threat of terrorism or the challenge of managing Afghanistan-like regional disorder. Others in multilateral forums, such as the six-party effort to deal with a nuclear North Korea or the P-5’s attention to nuclear risk reduction.”
“With the five-year extension of New START, the United States and Russia got a reprieve to come up with new ways to manage their strategic competition. They should use this time to engage in a no-holds-barred dialogue about their differences and to think boldly and creatively beyond the established framework that is bound to run into the insurmountable twin obstacles of political headwinds and conceptual obsolescence.”
“The issue is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is slated to bring up to 55 billion cubic meters a year of natural gas from Russia to Germany and is within a few months of completion. A bipartisan coalition in Congress aims to thwart what it views as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to acquire political leverage over Europe by hooking it on Russian gas. Now, lawmakers are pressuring the Biden administration to implement the sanctions they already passed.”
“Biden himself has said that the pipeline is “a bad deal for Europe” but is reportedly reluctant to move forward with sanctions that would affect a critical ally. In the face of Congressional demands for maximal action that will kill the pipeline — an outcome that may not even be possible — senior aides are searching for a measure that would get Congress off the boil without causing a breach with Berlin.
If no middle position can be found, and the administration capitulates to Congress, one senior Berlin official worries, the result may be “a major portion of the CDU/CSU [the allied Christian Democrats and Bavarian Christian Social Union] turning against the U.S.” Germany’s center-right coalition has held the chancellery for all but 20 of the postwar German republic’s 72 years in existence. Such a breach with what has arguably been the most consistently pro-American party in Europe, the official adds, “hasn’t happened in the history of this republic.” The insult to Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump singled out for particularly offensive treatment and who is now coming to the end of her 16-year tenure, would be unforgettable.”
“Russia may richly deserve the punitive treatment, but whatever damage a new round of sanctions implementation will inflict on Russia will be relatively minor compared to the harm to the U.S.-German bilateral relationship at a genuinely critical moment. Washington is looking to Europe — with Germany in the lead — to craft complementary policies to manage an emboldened China. On issues like setting standards and regulating the cyber world, only a U.S.-European effort could block Chinese ambitions. Washington also hopes Germany and its EU partners will help stop Chinese efforts to control a range of international agencies and provide a united front on Chinese human rights abuses. Breathing new life into NATO, revitalizing the Iran nuclear deal and, ironically, managing Vladimir Putin are other areas where German support will be essential.”
“Congress is so determined to whack Russia that it is threatening to undermine the very transatlantic alliances that are essential for countering Russia over the long-term. But that is the result of Capitol Hill’s trouble with setting priorities and an ingrained bad habit — specifically, the habit of slapping on sanctions whenever it doesn’t like something. American legislators appear to have forgotten that so-called “secondary” or “extraterritorial” sanctions, which affect not only countries that have done things that are wrong (Russia invading and annexing Crimea) but also countries that have done things within their rights (doing business with Russia), are considered by the rest of the world to be a violation of international law.”
“the case that sanctions advocates make is questionable at best. The notion that Putin will ensnare Europe in an energy stranglehold is far-fetched. Europe has been diversifying its energy sources for decades and now receives less than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, down from 80 percent in 1990. There is also little evidence that Germany’s substantial Russian gas imports over decades have affected Germany policies toward Russia. Nothing stopped Chancellor Angela Merkel from taking the lead in criticizing Moscow for the poisoning of Navalny, who was flown to Berlin, where he recuperated. (Trump questioned whether the Russian government was behind the poisoning.) Nor can Germany be accused of weakness when it comes to the sanctions related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea or occupation of eastern Ukraine.
In recent years, German natural gas consumption has fluctuated in a small band, and while it may grow as nuclear energy and coal are phased out, that will be offset to a significant degree by the rapid growth in renewable energy. Germany is a global leader in the field with renewables comprising 18 percent of total energy consumption and powering more than 45 percent of electricity generation. Moreover, a completed Nord Stream 2 would likely not mean substantially greater exports of Russian gas to Europe. It would just mean that less gas comes to Europe in pipelines that transit Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. (Concern about diminished gas transit fees have led Ukraine and Poland to be among the vociferous lobbyists for killing Nord Stream 2.)
Against this backdrop and with ample historical experience, the Germans plausibly argue that they will not be in the thrall of the Kremlin. The key dependence, they argue, will run in the other direction, with an economically ramshackle Russia urgently needing euro payments for its gas, a point endorsed by experts such as Eugene Rumer, the former top U.S. intelligence community Russia watcher.
There are ways to achieve a solution with Germany that will avoid a train wreck. Many German politicians — including Greens who hate to see more fossil fuels flowing into the country and policymakers who hate having any business with Russia — think the pipeline was a dumb idea from the start, but relations with the Trump administration were too toxic to sort things out, and the project is now too close to completion to abandon. There is ample room for negotiation.
Former German Ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger has suggested that Germany make the flow of gas conditional on improvements in Russian behavior. Responding to the argument that Russia will divert gas that now transits Ukraine to Nord Stream 2 and starve that country of much-needed transit fees, Steven Pifer, who served as U.S. envoy to Ukraine, argues for insisting on a Russian guarantee that it will continue pumping at least 40 billion cubic meters of gas through Ukraine, as it is now doing, beyond 2024, when the current deal runs out. No doubt there are other possible approaches as well.
What there is no substitute for in global politics is a strengthened transatlantic alliance — historically the most important for American statecraft — and that is something that won’t happen if the strongest country in Europe, Germany, feels dissed.”
“Russian President Vladimir Putin likely directed an effort by Moscow to try to swing the 2020 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, according to an American intelligence report released on Tuesday that linked the Kremlin and allies of the former president.”
“The report also punctured a counter-narrative pushed by Trump’s allies that China was interfering on Biden’s behalf, concluding that Beijing “did not deploy interference efforts.”
“China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught,” the report said.
U.S. officials said they also saw efforts by Cuba, Venezuela and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah to influence the election, although “in general, we assess that they were smaller in scale than those conducted by Russia and Iran.”
The Russian, Chinese and Cuban Embassies in Washington did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Iranian mission to the United Nations and the Venezuelan Ministry of Information also did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Moscow, Beijing and Tehran routinely deny allegations of cyberespionage and election interference.
The report assessed that Russian leaders “preferred that former President Trump win re-election despite perceiving some of his administration’s policies as anti-Russia,” with its authors adding, “We have high confidence in this assessment.””
“Russia, China and others knowingly exploit two fundamental gaps in our cybersecurity architecture. They acquire or co-opt domestic computers and cloud services as a platform to launch malicious cyber operations. They appreciate that our intelligence services are focused on cyber activities beyond our borders, and that these services are generally not allowed to track foreign mischief once it moves onshore. Moreover, the private sector — very much a component of our national security — is largely left to fend for itself against foreign cyberattacks, yielding a situation inconsistent with the federal government’s role of providing our “common defense” under the Constitution.
Addressing these gaps raises enormously complex legal and policy questions about the scope of government in protecting us from foreign cyber malevolence. Yet our understandable hesitancy in confronting these questions allows adversaries to continue to exploit the situation. We must start that discussion and consider how our foreign intelligence services could work with the FBI and CISA — in a manner fully consistent with our values and the Constitution — to pursue foreign cyber maliciousness when it involves using domestic parts of the internet.
To have prevented this hack, we would have had to piece together information from the intelligence community about Russian intentions and activity, link it to hints (from affected agencies or DHS) that some government systems had suspicious domestic internet connections, and then monitor those internet connections. Media reports indicate that the Russians used a domestic internet domain leased from Go Daddy, a reputable and popular host for web domains, to control the malware that was inserted in government networks. Normally a search warrant or other legal process, often taking days, is required before the FBI can fully review the traffic connecting with a suspected malicious internet site. None of the foregoing steps could, at least under current structures, have been taken in sufficient time to detect the attack in the first place; at a very minimum, we could be better structured to stop such attacks from spreading.
There is no single structural or legal solution to the problem of foreign cyberattacks. More robust sanctions against foreign adversaries and better international efforts to stop the export of cyber mischief and bring cyber criminals to justice will also help. Working with other like-minded nations, we need to raise the risks and costs of cyber espionage and cyber damage.
But steps like those outlined above are also needed to bolster our federal government’s defenses and to give us more robust tools to use against foreign cyber wrongdoers. That, along with more vigorous sharing with private businesses of otherwise classified information about the techniques of those wrongdoers, would go a long way to addressing the vulnerabilities of the private sector, and thus help fulfill government’s responsibilities in that regard. As if we needed an illustration of the private sector’s vulnerability, the recent sophisticated attack was undetected even by cybersecurity incident response firm FireEye, apparently itself a victim, with some of its cybertools used to test customer network security audaciously stolen by the intruders.”
“these two international crises highlight a major challenge Biden will face over the next four years, just as other presidents before him did: how to support democratic movements in places where the US doesn’t have actually much leverage, and where doing so could end up hurting the very movements the US wants to support.
In Myanmar, the US has few options to push the ruling generals to reverse course, especially since it provides almost no financial assistance to the government. As for Russia, any American effort to bolster democracy in and around it is viewed as a threat to be stamped out and delegitimized. Last October, shortly after the Kremlin poisoned and nearly killed Navalny, Putin’s regime claimed the dissident worked with the CIA.
American leaders with high hopes of ushering in a more democratic future inevitably run into the harsh reality of their limitations and the opposing forces working against them. “Every administration for the last 30 years has struggled with this,” said Erin Snider, an expert on US democracy promotion at Texas A&M University.
Myanmar and Russia, then, show the Biden administration is already in the thick of this dilemma.”
“Biden is also looking into the possibility of placing economic sanctions on Myanmar in the coming weeks. But while that would potentially give the US additional leverage over the military generals ruling the country, it could backfire.
That’s because some experts have warned that doing so could end up increasing authoritarian China’s already immense economic influence in Myanmar while pushing out democratic countries like South Korea and Japan, which have worked to develop economic and military ties to the country and break China’s “stranglehold” there.
And though China has had a complicated relationship with Myanmar’s military regime, it’s unlikely closer ties between the two countries will bode well for Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement — or for the Biden administration’s efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the region.”
“it’s not clear the US actually has many ways of successfully pushing Russia to change. The Kremlin rejects any efforts at democratization in Russia and its surroundings, while pro-democracy groups like Navalny’s get stamped out the second they become overly threatening. The best way to punish Russia would be to get European nations to curb ties with Moscow, but that’s always proven hard for any US administration to do.
No one expects Biden, or any US administration, to depose autocrats and usher in full-blown democracies over his four or even eight years. At most, the US can move the needle a little bit so that, over time, a country liberalizes so organic democracy movements can grow. But even incremental progress requires trade-offs, ones that require the president and his team to assess how much they value a foreign nation’s democratic leanings against everything else.”