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A Cloud Of Counterproductivity Loomed Over The Biden-Putin Summit

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin participate in a tete-a-tete during a U.S.-Russia Summit on Wednesday, June 16, 2021, at the Villa La Grange in Geneva. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Everything after the separator is the opinion this article’s author.

On June 17, 2021, history was made as Joe Biden went abroad for the first time as the President of the United States of America. After more than a year of virtual phone calls and online meetings, Biden was excited to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in person. In the words of Biden himself, “All foreign policy is a logical extension of personal relationships. It’s the way human nature functions.” 

Unfortunately, Putin seemed to not share the same sentiment. Although the meeting was allegedly productive, Putin made clear that “It certainly doesn’t imply that we looked into each other’s eyes and found a soul or swore eternal friendship.” That being said, despite not becoming soulmates in the span of one meeting, the two world leaders were able to size each other up and will hopefully be able to cooperate further in future meetings. 

A sign of good things to come, however, was Putin’s extremely uncharacteristic punctuality. Despite a history of strategic tardiness, such as making German Chancellor Angela Merkel wait for four hours, Putin actually arrived a couple of minutes prior.

Surprisingly, Biden and Putin were able to finish their talks a couple of hours earlier than the total amount of time allotted to them. This was despite the docket being expansive and covering what feels to be every up-to-date, important policy issue. 

Even though both Biden and Putin saw the meeting as productive, for an outside observer, the meeting invokes an odd feeling of déjà vu. Perhaps it’s the continued failure to amend Ukraine or the never-ending “whataboutism” from Putin’s press conference after the meeting, but there was not much to separate this meeting between the two presidents from any before. 

Although action on cybersecurity seems the most promising, the chances of this summit leading towards impactful policy feel jadedly improbable. At its best, this summit could lead towards a more amicable relationship between Biden and Putin and hint towards future summits. At its worst, however, the world could be left with just another political show, with both presidents pandering to the masses to create the illusion of progress.

The Biden-Putin Geneva Summit was definitely a great opportunity for the two presidents to size each other up and set the field for the two presidents’ relationship going forward. That being said, if these talks fail to translate into tangible change and actual policy change, then all is for naught. The whole world can only wait and hold its breath for the next summit. 

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