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Biden and Putin Agree to Begin Work on Arms Control & Cybersecurity in Effort to Avoid New Cold War

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Geneva Wednesday for a three-hour summit and agreed to set up working groups to deal with nuclear arms control, as well as cyberattacks. The sides also agreed to send ambassadors back to their posts, restoring “normal diplomatic relations of a kind which exist between most countries on the face of the Earth,” says Anatol Lieven, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “A more cooperative atmosphere has been established so that the U.S.A. and Russia can work together.” He also discusses ongoing tensions over NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, American hypocrisy about its actions in other countries and how China’s rise impacts the U.S.-Russian relationship.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday for a three-hour summit. The two leaders of the world’s largest nuclear powers agreed to set up working groups to deal with nuclear arms control, as well as cyberattacks. Biden and Putin also agreed to send ambassadors back to their posts in the United States and Russia. In March, Russia withdrew its ambassador in Washington after Biden called Putin a “killer” during a television interview. The United States then pulled its ambassador in Moscow in April.

After their summit, the two leaders held solo news conferences. This is President Biden.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I did what I came to do: number one, identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world; two, communicate directly — directly — that the United States will respond to actions that impair our vital interests or those of our allies; and, three, to clearly lay out our countries’ priorities and our values. So he heard it straight from me.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden went on to warn there would be, quote, “devastating consequences” if jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died. Biden also warned the U.S. would use its significant cyber capability if Russia waged a cyberattack on critical infrastructure in the United States.

Putin described his conversation with Biden as “constructive.”

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] I believe that there was no hostility. On the contrary, our meeting, of course, took place in a principled manner. Our assessments on many points differ, but, in my opinion, both sides demonstrated a desire to understand each other and look for ways to bring their positions closer. The conversation was very constructive.

AMY GOODMAN: After Biden’s news conference ended, CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins yelled a question to the president.

KAITLAN COLLINS: Why are you so confident he’ll change his behavior, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I didn’t — I’m not confident he’s changed his behavior. Where the hell — what do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said — I said — what I said was — let’s get it straight: I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything; I’m just stating the facts.

KAITLAN COLLINS: But given his past behavior has not changed, and in that press conference, after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks, he downplayed human rights abuses, he even refused to say Alexei Navalny’s name — so, how does that account to a “constructive” meeting, as President Putin framed it?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden later apologized, saying to Kaitlan Collins — for being a, quote, “wise guy.”

To talk more about the Biden-Putin summit, we’re joined by Anatol Lieven, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He’s the author of numerous books on Russia and the former Soviet republics, his most recent book titled Climate Change and the Nation State: The Case for Nationalism in a Warming World. It’ll be released as an updated paperback in September. He’s joining us from Doha.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Anatol Lieven. If you can start off by just laying out what you think was most critical about the summit that took place yesterday between Putin and Biden?

ANATOL LIEVEN: First of all, it restored normal diplomatic relations, of a kind which exist between most countries on the face of the Earth. Ambassadors have gone back. Hopefully, consular officials will go back. You know, ordinary personal exchanges will be restored. And, you know, that is of considerable importance in itself and helps open the way for other things.

Secondly, a more cooperative atmosphere has been established so that the U.S.A. and Russia can work together, as President Biden stressed, in areas where their common interests do actually coincide.

Afghanistan was mentioned. It was mentioned by both leaders in the context of terrorism, but, actually, after the U.S. military withdrawal, Russia and other neighbors of Afghanistan will be critical to the success of any peace process or any hope for stabilizing Afghanistan. So, that was very important.

And we saw the beginnings — I mean, only the beginnings, of course — of talks, which could in the future lead to agreement on further nuclear arms reductions. I mean, in principle, that should not be difficult. I mean, both the U.S.A. and Russia have far, far more missiles than they actually need. China has demonstrated you can have a perfectly credible nuclear deterrent with a fraction of those numbers. And equally importantly, has begun the process, or continued the process, of negotiation of a treaty on cyberspace. That will take a long time and will be very difficult — may not happen, but, you know, you have to start somewhere.

And finally — and I think that is very important — both leaders set out their red lines. At least we know Biden did, because he said so, you know, which is attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure, cyberattacks, and if Navalny dies. But Putin restated Russia’s strong opposition to further NATO enlargement, and Russia has made it — well, has actually fought on a couple of occasions over precisely that issue. And Russia has made it clear that in the event of a Ukrainian military offensive against the Russian-protected separatist area of Eastern Ukraine, Russia will also fight. So, I think those are the main positive results of this summit.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Anatol Lieven, I wanted to ask you: In terms of how, especially here in the U.S., the media portray the relations with Russia as Russia being the aggressor and Russian aggression having to be stemmed, could you talk about how, from the Russian perspective, the continued expansion of NATO after the collapse of the Soviet bloc is seen as itself unbridled aggression by the West?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Yes. I mean, Russia sees NATO as a deeply anti-Russian organization. And, of course, Russia, like any country, deeply dislikes the idea of a hostile military alliance approaching its borders and taking over its neighbors.

Now, in the case of Ukraine, this is particularly sensitive, because, of course, Ukraine has a very large ethnic Russian minority. And Crimea, which Russia, of course, annexed — this has not been internationally recognized — in 2014, contains one of Russia’s most important and historic military bases at Sevastopol.

So, the Russians, for many, many years, made clear that they would react, if necessary, with force against NATO moves of this kind. There was absolutely no grounds at all to be surprised, therefore, by Russia’s reaction in 2014 to the Ukrainian revolution. And the Russians repeatedly use the phrase “Monroe Doctrine” to say that, look, you know, America has always been bitterly opposed, categorically opposed, to countries in Central America joining any anti-American alliance and has used extremely ruthless measures to prevent that during the Cold War.

So, it’s not necessarily that the Russians are, at least in private, claiming to represent a moral position, but they are claiming to represent a realist position. And they say that, in practice, that is what America does, as well, when its vital interests are threatened.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of a realist tradition, President Biden said — after the summit, he said, quote, “How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it? What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he engaged in? It diminishes the standing of a country.” And he was referring to Russia’s alleged interference in U.S. elections. Your reaction to President Biden’s statement?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it’s not so much a question of my reaction. This kind of American statement causes hysterical laughter in Latin America, in large parts of Asia and, by the way, in Russia itself, where America brought very heavy influence to bear in the elections in the 1990s in support of Boris Yeltsin, who was America’s candidate, if you like. I mean, the suggestion that America has not interfered in other people’s elections, tried very hard to influence them, through every possible measure of propaganda and bribery, and, of course, in a good many instances, has supported coups to actually overturn those elections, as in Algeria, to take only one example, in 1992, or in Egypt, since then, in Chile, if you go back to the 1970s — I mean, this does indicate a kind of blissful lack of self-awareness on the part of President Biden, that, of course, really discredits him and America in the eyes of ordinary Russians, including many ordinary Russians who really dislike Putin and the Putin administration by now. You know, they are perfectly well aware of the corruption and the oppressiveness of that administration, but they regard this kind of lecture by the United States as just totally hypocritical.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to President Biden in his own words on this issue.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: How would it be if the United States were viewed by the rest of the world as interfering with the elections directly of other countries and everybody knew it? What would it be like if we engaged in activities that he has engaged in? It diminishes the standing of a country.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, the United States, as you just pointed out, has this long history of interfering. By one count from Carnegie-Mellon University professor Dov Levin, the U.S. interfered in 81 foreign presidential elections between 1946 and 2000, and that doesn’t include U.S.-backed coups and regime change. I wanted to go to the issue of — here is ABC reporter Rachel Scott questioning the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

RACHEL SCOTT: [The list of] your political opponents who are dead, prisoned or jailed is long. Alexei Navalny’s organization calls for free and fair elections, an end to corruption. But Russia has outlawed that organization, calling it extremist. And you have now prevented anyone who supports him to run for office. So, my question is, Mr. President: What are you so afraid of?

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] The United States has a law that spells out that the United States will support specific entities and organizations in Russia. At the same time, the Russian Federation was labeled as an adversary. They went on the record and said publicly that they will stymie the development of Russia. … We have labeled them as foreign agents, but we haven’t banned them. I mean, they can operate all right. If you’re labeled as a foreign agent, that does not preclude you from operating in the country. Well, if it’s an extremist organization, that’s a whole new story, whole different story. The organization in question publicly has called for riots and public disorder. It has openly instructed people on how to make Molotov cocktails.

AMY GOODMAN: So if you could address this issue of Alexei Navalny and what Biden said? And also, I mean, this was a summit between Biden and Putin, obviously president of Russia, where Ed Snowden is. He can’t come home to the United States for fear of being imprisoned for the rest of his life as a whistleblower. This is also the week, the 50th anniversary of the release of the Pentagon Papers and the celebration of whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. And you’ve got Julian Assange wasting away in a high-security British prison as the U.S. refuses, the Biden administration refuses, to drop extradition requests against him to bring him to the U.S., where he faces over 170 years in jail. Anatol Lieven?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, undoubtedly, Russia, under Putin, has become much more authoritarian. And yes, I mean, opposition parties have, in effect, been banned. And leading opposition figures have been murdered, although we don’t have definite proof of who was responsible, but, naturally, there must be serious suspicions.

Now, that is not something that happens in the United States, I’m very happy to say. But you’re quite right. The U.S. record is not spotless. And I was, frankly, astonished earlier this year when Belarus forced down a plane in order to arrest an opposition journalist, something which, by the way, I deeply condemn and oppose. But if we’re talking of Edward Snowden, of course, the United States and its NATO allies did exactly the same thing to the presidential plane of the president of Bolivia, forced it down in Vienna in order to search that plane for Edward Snowden.

So, you know, in issues like this, in issues of election interference in other countries, I mean, here, this really is a case of the kettle calling — the American kettle calling the Russian pot black. On the other hand, I am glad that Biden did issue this warning to Putin about Navalny, because, I mean, it is actually true. If Navalny dies in Russian custody, the impact on relations between Russia and Europe, as well as Russia and U.S.A., will indeed be appalling. So, it’s just as well to tell President Putin that.

AMY GOODMAN: I should add — I was just talking about whistleblowers who are dealing with the United States — that Daniel Hale, who is also a whistleblower, who released classified information on drones and targeted assassinations, faces sentencing in July. And Reality Winner has just been released from prison, after serving years there for her release of information, her family calling for her to be pardoned. She wasn’t released into freedom, but into a halfway house. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to go back for a second to Afghanistan, how little was dealt with in terms of Afghanistan at this meeting of Putin and Biden, given the enormous impact that wars in Afghanistan have had in both countries. Obviously, Russia spent 10 years bogged down in a war — occupation and a war in Afghanistan against jihadist guerrillas, and ultimately was defeated and had to leave. And the United States has spent more than 20 years — 20 years now in Afghanistan. I’m wondering your sense of whether both leaders were, in essence, trying to avoid the issue.

ANATOL LIEVEN: I’m afraid it may be even worse than that. I think that there is by now a profound American lack of interest in Afghanistan. You know, to a considerable extent, the American establishment has given up on the place and is just anxious to get out and hopes that it will hold together for, if you remember the phrase, a “decent interval,” so that when it eventually collapses, people will not so much blame the United States or see it as an American defeat.

But, I mean, what it also illustrates, I think, is this tendency in Washington to believe that America must not just be involved in, but must lead every important process in every part of the world. And if America is not going to be there, it loses interest, and certainly has very little interest in coordinating regional countries.

Because, of course, the point is that America — we always knew that America would go home, sooner or later — I mean, we hoped, with better success than it has done in Afghanistan. But, you know, America lives — what? Seven thousand miles from Afghanistan? Russia is very close to Afghanistan. China, Iran, Pakistan are actually on Afghanistan’s borders. They will always be concerned with what happens in Afghanistan. They also have the same interests as the United States in combating ISIS and international Islamist terrorism, as does India. And they all fare the consequences of a new outright civil war in Afghanistan.

So, this was a real opportunity for America, through Russia, to talk to the region about coordinating future approaches, because without a regional consensus on Afghanistan, I am afraid that there will be no possibility of peace there in the future.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of Ukraine, again, this is a red-line issue in terms of Russia and the possibility of Ukraine entering NATO. What’s your expectation of how this will develop, whether NATO will keep trying to recruit Ukraine?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it was very interesting, you know, yesterday — or was it the day before now? President Zelensky of Ukraine issued a tweet claiming that Biden had extended an immediate offer of NATO membership. That, of course, was not true. And it was an attempt, quite obviously, to trap the Biden administration into making this offer. Apparently, that was the reason why Biden’s first press conference in Geneva was delayed by two-and-a-half hours, while the U.S. administration or the Biden team formulated a response, which, once again, talked about the possibility in future of NATO membership for Ukraine remaining open, but made absolutely no actual commitment to that for the foreseeable future, because there are two basic facts which must be acknowledged.

The first is that NATO will not take Ukraine in as long as it has ongoing military conflicts with Russia, because that would point directly towards NATO having to go to war with Russia over the Donbas and Crimea. And, I mean, the very thought of that is ridiculous, you know, to risk nuclear war for separatist provinces of Ukraine. And in any case, any move in that direction would be vetoed by half a dozen European NATO members.

The second point to bring out is that the West will not fight for Ukraine. We didn’t fight for Georgia in 2008, despite many semi-promises. We didn’t fight for Ukraine in 2014. Despite this very loose and sloppy use of the word “alliance,” Ukraine is not an ally. It will not be saved by the West in a war with Russia.

So, I think the whole issue of NATO membership for Ukraine has become, frankly, empty and theoretical. This is a can which will be endlessly kicked down the road — continuing, by the way, to alarm and irritate the Russians, but not actually leading to anything in practical terms.

AMY GOODMAN: Can we talk about a subject that really wasn’t so much in the news yesterday, which was China? You have China’s military sending 28 warplanes to airspace controlled by Taiwan Tuesday — a record number since it began flying these sorties on a daily basis. In response, Taiwan scrambled jet fighters, activated defense systems, the tensions coming just a day [after] Biden successfully pushed NATO leaders to declare China to be a security risk for the first time. And behind the scenes, you have Europe pushing back on the United States, that although Biden said he doesn’t want to have a new Cold War with Russia, looks like he’s pushing for a Cold War with Russia and China. Talk about the country that wasn’t included in this summit.

ANATOL LIEVEN: Yes. Well, from a realist point of view, America, for the past 20 years, has violated fundamental principle of realism 101 — as, by the way, Henry Kissinger, the arch-realist, has discretely, diplomatically pointed out. It has driven its two main adversaries together instead of separating them. And instead of, as it did — you know, Kissinger and Nixon in the 1970s took China, the weaker communist state, and turned it against the Soviet Union, the stronger one. There would be many opportunities to take Russia and, if not turn it against China, at least keep it away from China. But that obviously is not going to happen as long as the United States and West extends NATO up to Russia’s borders. Russia is bound to see that as the principal threat.

The result is that Russia has been driven closer and closer to China, in a way, by the way, that makes a good many Russians, in private, pretty anxious — you know, this fear that, in future, Russia will simply be a kind of dependency of China. But as far as they can see, there’s not much they can do about it, given U.S. policy towards Russia.

I mean, on these NATO statements of China being an adversary, the European Union is much more important, because it’s a question of economic pushback against aspects of Chinese policy, against China buying up infrastructure, against China trying to dominate aspects of international communications, Huawei 5G. Now, there, the European Union actually does play a critical role, alongside the United States. And that’s why, of course, the Biden administration has devoted so much attention to getting the European Union onside.

But NATO, frankly, given its miserable performance in Afghanistan, and given that, Britain aside, the actual NATO offer of forces to sort of, if you like, side with America in the Indo-Pacific, amounts, to date, to one warship, one frigate or destroyer, at a time, that isn’t going to worry the Chinese. You know, NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It’s the ultimate backstop against Russian aggression into Western or Central Europe. But every attempt to extend NATO out of area has proved a failure. It’s just not configured for that. And one of the reasons it’s not configured for that is that most of the European countries — once again, exception of Britain and France — simply will not fight. You know, they won’t fight, in any circumstances, seriously. They are there to defend Western Europe. And in the unbelievable scenario that Western Europe was invaded, they would fight to defend their homelands. But you’re not going to get them to deploy seriously against China. It’s a nonissue.

AMY GOODMAN: Anatol Lieven, I want to thank you for being with us, senior fellow for Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, author of many books on Russia and the former Soviet republics, his forthcoming book, Climate Change and the Nation State: The Case for Nationalism in a Warming World.

Next up, we look at the mayoral race here in New York City. Early voting is already underway. Ranked-choice voting will be used to decide the winner. The candidates held their final debate last night. Stay with us.

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