By Dalia Al-Aqidi*
When US President Joe Biden in March described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “killer with no soul,” he knew exactly what he was talking about. And during the Geneva meeting between the two leaders last week, Putin indeed killed it. He accomplished what he wanted from the US and more.
Following his first international trip as president, the Biden administration has declared the president to be the clear, consensus leader of the free world, according to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. “Whether it’s standing with friends or engaging with difficult competitors like Vladimir Putin, Joe Biden showed throughout this trip that he is striding across the world stage with confidence and purpose and a singular focus on defending American interests and values and those of our allies,” Sullivan told reporters.
Was Biden’s meeting with Putin fruitful? For Moscow, it definitely was.
Biden wants the approval of the international community, regardless of the consequences of his decisions. The US has already given Russia the green light to finish the 95 percent-completed Nord Stream 2 pipeline by waiving sanctions on an ally of Putin who leads the firm behind the project, which will take gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
The question about US policy is what is Washington getting in return?
It seems that the Biden administration is seeking a more stable relationship with Moscow after a tense first six months. That desire was translated into action when the two heads of state agreed to allow their ambassadors to return to each other’s capitals.
Even though critical issues were discussed during the two-and-a-half-hour Biden-Putin meeting — such as the Russian aggression in Ukraine, human rights, and cybersecurity — there were no signs of agreement on any of these issues.
Biden’s decision to meet his Russian counterpart was hasty and miscalculated, since Moscow has the upper hand in areas that pose a major threat to the interests of the US and its allies, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was right when he said in a statement that Biden had given Putin a “pass.” He said: “The American people suffered massive disruptions because of Russia-linked cyberattacks. Two Americans, both Marine veterans, are being held as prisoners in Russia. We know Vladimir Putin silences and imprisons his critics. Knowing these facts, President Biden should have used today’s summit to stand up for our national interests and send a message to the world that the United States will hold Russia accountable for its long list of transgressions.”
The recent Russia-linked cyberattacks against the Colonial Pipeline, which led to the shutting down of a major US oil pipeline, creating a massive days-long fuel shortage, and meat processor JB Foods, which produces a fifth of US beef, highlighted the magnitude of the threat posed by these attacks. Therefore, the average American expects his president to take strict measures against those who approved, funded and executed these hostile operations.
Biden has made it clear that his country will use offensive cyber operations against Russia if Moscow fails to thwart these attacks. However, handing Putin a list of 16 sectors designated as critical by the US Homeland Security Department will not stop these attacks.
Meanwhile, the far-left narrative of systemic racism gives countries like Russia immunity from the consequences of their human rights breaches. When discussing the issue of Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, and other human rights issues, Putin used Democratic talking points by pointing out the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. “We feel sympathy for the United States of America, but we don’t want that to happen on our territory. We’re doing our utmost in order to not allow it to happen,” he said in a solo press conference following the end of the summit.
If we have learned one thing from history, it is that the Russians cannot be trusted and they will continue their lies, cyberattacks, human rights breaches, and bullying of the world. Therefore, the US administration should not give Putin the platform he desires.
Discussing the nuclear arms control agreement that was signed in 1987 by Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev should not give Moscow more leverage. The US should verify what the Russians tell them and make it clear that Washington will not hesitate to hold Moscow accountable for any wrongdoing.
Only two days after the Geneva summit, the White House decided to temporarily halt a $100 million military aid package to Ukraine, which was originally made in response to aggressive Russian troop movements along Ukraine’s border this spring, according to a report published by Politico. Regardless of the reasons for this decision, the timing is completely off and it sends the wrong message to the Kremlin and other dictatorships around the globe.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a brief statement in which she reiterated the US’ commitment to the stability and sovereignty of Ukraine. “As President Biden told President Putin directly, we will stand unwavering in support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said.
With every new administration, Putin is going to test his boundaries in an attempt to gain more power so that he can tighten his grip on his own people before anybody else does. He had a great day when he met Biden, and it is not too early for Americans to ask their president: What was in it for me?
• Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi