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Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and US President Joe Biden

In a matter of days or even hours, the historic summit of Putin and Biden will take place in Geneva. Or maybe it would be more correct to write: the historic semi-summit of Putin and Biden will take place in Geneva? At the insistence of the American side, the rendezvous of the leaders of the two main nuclear powers of the world will be deprived of such a familiar and even obligatory continuation as a joint press conference. My “inner traditionalist” is rebelling and indignant: how can you break the rules like that? But if in this particular case, following the rules has very real chances to bring tangible harm, then maybe God bless them, with these rules?

July 2018. Joint press conference of the leaders of the Russian Federation and the United States following their communication in Helsinki. Putin looks like a charismatic teacher, Trump looks like a diligent but somewhat timid student. My “inner patriot” is delighted, my “inner analyst” is terrified. It seemed to me obvious that the American political establishment would not forgive us for such a contrast. And so it happened. The Helsinki summit not only did not contribute to the improvement of Russian-American relations but also led to the appearance of new blockages in them.

Now fast forward to today and take a glimpse of the reports of news agencies: “US Assistant to the President for National Security Jake Sullivan admitted that Joe Biden had Syria in mind when he spoke of Libya in the context of a possible expansion of cooperation with Russia at the G7 summit … Now imagine what a freak show the consequences of the joint press conference of Putin and Biden could turn into if during it the American leader would also confuse something.

In case I expressed myself too bluntly, I want to make an important clarification: the ending of the previous paragraph should not be considered an allusion to the theory that is now popular in Moscow’s corridors of power, “Biden today is Brezhnev yesterday.” As usual, we will definitely learn about the real state of health of the current US president in the summer of 2021 a little later – from future memoirs of his closest associates, which will certainly follow. In the meantime, despite his famous inability to express thoughts clearly and accurately, Biden still does not look very much like a man who, “without regaining consciousness, took up the duties of Secretary-General.” And even if it is a little similar, if we compare the general viability of the two American administrations, the “collective Biden” still looks much more advantageous than the sole Trump three years ago.

The point is not at all the degree of the decrepitude of this or that political leader and the ensuing desire to avoid the “race of press conferences”. Such a race will still take place, but in a slightly different format of parallel press briefings by Putin and Biden. The fact is that at the current political moment it is extremely important to avoid as much as possible the pressure of the usual “laws of the genre” of summit meetings of leaders from Moscow and Washington.

What do I mean? The fact that for almost 80 years now relations between our two countries have been developing according to the law of a pendulum.

The Second World War. The era of Stalin-Roosevelt. Under the influence of their media, ordinary Americans are fanatical about “Uncle Joe”. US Vice President Henry Wallace has publicly expressed doubts about the existence of the Gulag. The best people in Hollywood release propaganda films praising the USSR, like the sensational film “Mission to Moscow”. At the meetings of the big leading three of allies, Roosevelt very often unites with Stalin and together with him “makes friends against” British Prime Minister Churchill.

Several years pass. Because of his pro-Soviet views, the out-of-office Henry Wallace turns into a pariah in the Washington political elite. The best people in Hollywood are dragged for interrogation by the Commission on Anti-American Activities. Those who refuse to repent for their past sympathy for the USSR are instantly deprived of their jobs and chances of finding a job elsewhere.

I will not bore you further with detailed historical reminiscences. I will give only three more examples in the dotted line. Fraternities between Khrushchev and Eisenhower, and Nikita Sergeevich’s curses against the President of the United States that followed soon after, after the USSR shot down the American U-2 spy plane Harry Powers. Reagan’s phrase about the “evil empire” and his subsequent tender friendship with Gorbachev. Long ago turned into a meme, Bush Jr.’s words about Putin: “I looked into his eyes and saw his soul” – and an acute crisis in Russian-American relations at the end of the presidency of this US president.

The laws of the genre and the “overhang of expectations” caused by them require from the rendezvous of the presidents of the Russian Federation and the United States either “peace, friendship, chewing gum”, or a dramatic confrontation in the style of the meeting between Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy in Vienna in 1961. Since there has been more than enough dramatic confrontation in recent years, now, in theory, it is the turn of the “gum”. But this idea is deeply wrong. Restoring full-scale Russian-American cooperation is not on the agenda right now. The task of the upcoming summit is to transfer the inevitable at the present moment Russian-American confrontation into a manageable and therefore secure form.

Does this task require an obligatory joint press conference following the summit? She definitely requires something completely different. All things considered, the obligatory joint press conference following the summit may even hinder this something else.

Thanks, therefore, to Grandpa Biden for “insulting Putin” by violating the usual protocol of high-level meetings. Happiness, as you know, is not at all in the protocol!

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Dmitri Agafonov
A political analyst who keeps a close eye on Russian and international relations. Studied Economics at Leningrad State University, St. Petersberg in Russia. A contributor to The Eastern Herald from Russia.