Staunton, June 16 – As the Geneva summit showed, “relations with Russia are important for the US in supporting global stability and resolving essential foreign policy tasks,” Liliya Shevtsova says. But “for Russia, the US means significantly more, having become a within-system factor.”
For Moscow, the Russian analyst says, relations with the US are “a confirmation” of Russia’s being a power,” something that is especially true when it casts the US in “the role of ‘the Enemy,’ when the Kremlin needs a meaning of mobilizing society. Therefore, the weaker the legitimation of the powers via elections, the more important ‘the Enemy’ becomes.”
“No one nation elicits among the Russian elite such strong feelings,” Shevtsova continues. And no other country plays such a defining role whether it is viewed as Russia’s opponent or as “a situational partner.’” What Moscow worries most about is being ignored (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2856000-echo/).
That explains many of the actions Russia takes against others. They are intended often in the first instance to get the attention of the Americans, the analyst says. The fact that Washington is trying to reduce tensions and calm the situation suggests to the Russian leadership that causing trouble is a good way not to be forgotten.
Putin’s actions forced Biden to “come to the conclusion” that isolating Putin would cost him more than talking to him even if there was little chance that they could reach any specific agreement. Whatever tactical interests may have driven them together, however, were “incapable of softening the lack of correspondence” between the systemic principles of the two.
The US leader has to seek a way of “combining the struggle for democracy and the need to deal with Russia on geopolitical questions. Each time he does so, he must choose between “what is more important: Ukraine, Navalny and freedom or rockets, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.”
Interests tend to predominate when leaders feel the need for a summit, Shevtsova suggests; and this meeting was “a conversation about interests and about how to advance them” without landing in a disaster, no easy thing when the leaders have little or no reason to trust one another.
It is possible that Geneva will open the way to more conversations and greater tactical cooperation, but there is a looming risk that Russia will conclude that in such conversations the Americans are viewing it as a pawn in the game against the greater power, China, something completely unacceptable to Moscow.
One can say, Shevtsova continues, that “the positive significance of the summit lies in the hope that both sides see the abyss” and want to avoid it. “No one wants an escalation.” But whether they can come together in the future is uncertain. As President Biden put it, “we’ll find out.” Or as Russians put it, “we will live and little and then see.”