Will Joe Biden Boost Low Level US-Russia Relations?

The United States and Russia have maintained diplomatic and trade relations throughout history, but their relations have had a boom-bust cycle, full of cooperation and disputes. The incumbent US president, Joe Biden, is seeking stable relations with its adversary, Russia.

Joe Biden Is Seeking Rational Relations with Russia

Joe Biden, president of the United States, travelled to the United Kingdom last week and met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his first foreign trip as president. Biden attended the G7 Summit in the UK, and then he met Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle. He left the UK for Brussels, Belgium, met NATO leaders and then travelled to Geneva, Switzerland, where he met Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At his first meeting with President Putin since taking office, President Biden  said he was seeking a rational relationship with Russia, referring to both countries as two great powers. At the meeting, Joe Biden said he had no agenda against Russia or anyone else and added that they should be able to cooperate in any areas which are in both their interests. After the meeting, Vladimir Putin expressed a positive impression of Joe Biden and called the US president a professional, experienced, and balanced man. Both leaders described the face-to-face meeting as positive overall. An outcome of the meeting was an agreement to return their ambassadors, who had been recalled, to their respective posts.


Joe Biden’s Previous Meetings with Putin Were not Very Pleasant

For his presidential meeting with the Russian leader, Joe Biden preferred a mixture of confrontation and cooperation towards Russia, which has been an all-time US adversary. Joe Biden’s first meeting with Vladimir Putin in 2001 was unpleasant. Vladimir Putin, the new Russian president at the time, had a friendly news conference at the White House with US President George W Bush and then he went to Capitol Hill.

Joe Biden was chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time and met Putin at a meeting with other leading US lawmakers. Vladimir Putin became angry after some US legislators tried to bring up Russia’s increasing influence in Eastern Europe. Later in 2011, when Biden was vice president, he met Vladimir Putin again, who was then Russia’s prime minister, during a visit to Kremlin and said that Putin had no soul. During that trip to Moscow, Joe Biden said the US wanted much closer relations with Russia and that it was time to focus on the economy, but rejected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s call for visa-free travel between the two countries, mentioning he was not the US president.


US-Russia Relations Underwent a Boom-Bust Cycle

The history of relations between the two nations dates back to the 19th century, when Russia recognised the United States as an independent nation in 1803, and diplomatic relations were formally established in 1809. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, diplomatic relations were interrupted and Washington refused to have formal relations with the Soviet government until 1933.  Following World War II, there was a period of geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union and their allies, called the Cold War. Postwar Soviet expansionism heightened American concerns about the USSR planning to control the world, while the American arms buildup and interventionist approach to international relations displeased Russia. In 1991, the United States recognised the Russian Federation as the successor to the Soviet Union and established a new round of diplomatic relations with Russia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in this year. After the USSR collapsed, the US sent political and economic advisers to work with the Russians and expand bilateral relations in important areas of interest. The United States was hopeful to engage with a country that would have new policies and a new international approach.


Decade Full of Disputes in US-Russia Relations

Both sides have almost always understood the advantages of at least some stability between the two nations. The post-Cold War era witnessed the US premise that Russia could be integrated into the West so that Moscow would have interests similar to Western countries and American-Russian relations would be positive because of it. This post-Cold War policy was right, because international economic and political integration could be powerful reasons for Russian players to interact with the outside world.

The US was also seeking to integrate Russia politically, claiming that it would make it a responsible partner in the management of international security issues. But Washington was unable to maintain constant relations with Moscow as disputes emerged in their relations.

After the annexation of Crimea and war in the Ukraine in 2014, and after Vladimir Putin’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and also support for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in recent years, tensions between the US and Russia flared-up again. Following the 2016 presidential election in the United States, allegations of Moscow’s interference in the results and its attempts to affect the 2020 election, have caused deterioration in relations.


Biden Hopes for Mutual Cooperation through Personal Attempts

Now it seems that Joe Biden, the incumbent US president, is attempting a “Cold Peace” with Vladimir Putin. He is hoping for mutual cooperation through meeting in person. Before the Geneva meeting, Joe Biden said that relations with Russia were at a low point and, albeit in an uncertain manner, spoke of eagerness to develop a strategic doctrine to work with Russia.

According to some experts, Biden thinks politics are personal, so personal meetings are important to him. After the meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Joe Biden said that there is a possibility to improve relations between the two countries without giving up anything based on their values. US presidents since George Bush have tried a kind of reset with Putin, hoping their work would improve relations between the two nations, but Joe Biden thinks both sides can work together where their interests can be adjusted. Biden talked about Alexei Navalny, the prominent opposition to Vladimir Putin, and also mentioned Russian cyber-attacks; but if Putin decides to launch a cyber-attack and ignore Navalny, many things in what Joe Biden has started as a prudent relationship with Vladimir Putin will change.


Military Cooperation, an Area for Better Ties

Despite the fact that Washington and Moscow have had unfriendly relations in the past, there are still certain areas in which they can cooperate. An area of priority is arms control. Joe Biden will try to cooperate with Russia on a limited agenda of mutual interests, mainly on arms control. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have already agreed to extend the new START treaty, a replacement deal that will be much harder to achieve. “The United States wants new limitations on nonstrategic nuclear weapons delivery vehicles, and Russia wants constraints on missile defense.” Military talks and meetings between the officials of both countries could create a balance and lead to more political channels opening up. Joe Biden should wait and see whether Putin will welcome a more stable and predictable relationship with the United States. Disputes aside, further cooperation between Washington and Moscow will build some hope for better Russian ties among US allies, especially EU countries.

Relationships between the United States and Russia have experienced many ups and downs throughout history and have been strained in the past decade over disagreements about some issues, including Ukraine and Syria, in addition to cybersecurity concerns. The US President Joe Biden met the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva following rows between the two countries over the last few years.

Joe Biden described the discussion with his Russian counterpart as good and positive. Biden emphasised that the face-to-face meeting in Geneva was a vital start, and said he could “succeed where others had failed”. The US president believes that foreign policy is just a positive extension of personal relationships and hoped for better, more rational ties with Russia to overcome past disputes. Joe Biden hopes for cooperation between the two countries to advance their mutual interests; one field for more cooperation is the military sector, to establish more stable and predictable ties between Washington and Moscow.

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