President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin sat down in Geneva for a widely anticipated show of diplomacy, where despite the deeply strained U.S.-Russia relationship, both leaders claimed to have a “positive” dialogue.
Experts say that Putin was happy to bask in the limelight of the world stage where he could peddle his own propaganda. Biden had less to gain going in — and he gained less.
“I think they both got out of it what they wanted,” retired Gen. Jack Keane, former vice Chief of Staff for the Army, told Fox News. Putin, I think, got more out of it than he expected given the major concessions that were made prior to the summit, and that he was able to deny and deflect the major issues.”
For Putin, being the first adversary to sit down with the U.S. president in international territory gave him the opportunity to elevate his stature amid waning support back home.
“Putin got what we wanted, which was a big summit before his parliamentary elections,” Daniel Hoffman, former CIA Moscow station chief and Fox News contributor, told Fox News in an interview.
Keane agreed. “At home, his population is waning, his economy is in the tank, his COVID-19 response has been awful – he’s only got about 11% of country vaccinated – and they are very upset with him.”
“There is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue between leaders. None,” Biden said, explaining his reasoning for meeting with the corrupt Russian leader.
Hoffman said though the summit elevated Putin’s stature it was necessary for the president to meet with him.
In person, the two world leaders agreed to again exchange ambassadors, Biden could promise consequences if Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny dies in jail, gave Putin 16 “off-limits” infrastructure entities to avoid for cyber attacks, and pressed the Russian leader on human rights abuses. Putin, for his part, denied and deflected when confronted with alleged abuses.
The relationship between Russia and China has grown so strong that weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Putin his “best friend.” Putin’s display on the world stage bodes well for a fellow adversary.
Rebekah Koffler, former Defense Intelligence Agency covering Russia and author of the forthcoming, “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News China is ‘elated’ at how the summit played out.
“Allowing Putin to berate and discredit us in a solo press conference is quite a mistake for the Biden administration. To give them that ability, China comes out on top.”
“I think China’s happy that Russia is such a thorn in our side. We take so much of our time and our energy and our resources to deal with Russia we have less to deal with China,” said Hoffman.
Some experts think Biden may have played his cards too early, leaving him in a weakened negotiating position before the summit began.
Koffler said that Biden extending the Start II treaty and eliminating Nord Stream 2 sanctions before the summit left him without anything to negotiate on.
“I think our president is in the losing position and Putin is in the winning position, and that was even before the summit,” she said.
Biden, Koffler said, “pretty much has given out the store to the Russians. He had no negotiating leverage.”
Koffler agreed Biden needed to meet with Putin at some time but said as of now, Putin has “established dominance” through his alleged involvement in a recent spate of cybersecurity attacks and other forms of “diplomatic intimidation.”
Experts agreed that the U.S. should have hit back harder with its own counterattack capabilities after the SolarWinds attack, among others.
Keane said he believes the conference was held too early in Biden’s presidency. “It should have been done this year or, even better, next year. That would enable the staff to tee up the major issues of contention that we have as well as those issues that we may have some commonality and agreement on,” he said.
Hoffman said that though the summit elevated Putin’s stature, it was necessary for the president to meet with him.
“Where Biden missed an opportunity was, go stand next to him at the press conference,” Hoffman said.
“To me that was playing not to lose rather than playing to win. Go out there and argue the points … tell him ‘No, you’re throwing out false equivalencies, this isn’t true and by the way here’s all the things you’ve done.”
The stable and predictable relationship
The White House said the goal of the summit was to come out with a “stable” and “predictable” relationship with Russia.
“There’s not much evidence for President Biden’s objective to improve the relationship so that it’s more stable and predictable. It’ll take some time to see if that has been achieved, I think the early signs are that it has not,” Keane said.
Biden said he doesn’t think Putin is looking for a Cold War with the United States, but Putin did not commit to ceasing cyberattacks, instead denying that he had any part in them. Biden, for his part, gave Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure entities that were “off-limits” for attack, but he said he did not discuss military action as a threat.
Putin’s deflection of all human rights claims against Russia during his press conference does not bode well for him listening to Biden’s insistence that he not let jailed Kremlin critic Navalny die in prison.
The Russian president was asked about the long list of his opponents who are dead or in jail and how Putin has prevented anyone who supports Navalny from running for office.
Putin first said that Navalny’s organization had called for mass disorder and was extremist in nature, then punted on the question and pivoted to unrest in the U.S., citing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot arrests, police killings, and Black Lives Matter protests.