In answer to our title question, obviously, Vladimir Putin has the biggest: Russia is 1.7 TIMES the size of the U.S. Granted, President Putin does not “own” Russia — so it’s technically not “his” — but his country is certainly larger than President Biden’s. But I don’t think that really matters. After all, we know that being the biggest in almost everything does not transfer into being better at almost everything.
In every previous summit meeting between the leaders of Russia and the U.S., there has been much at stake. And each nation’s leader brings abundant pressure to these summits to “win the day.” And their plans are almost always to “diplomatically” attack the other while not appearing to be too boisterous or proud. At the same time, systematically show the World the other is weak, inept, and incapable of governing as good as their opponent.
As a matter of fact, it seems these “get-togethers” might be the same thing as two schoolyard bullies shouting at each other in front of a bunch of buddies, “Mine is bigger than yours!”
It seems that the Geneva summit by these two titans of world politics may have been a “calmer version” of the two schoolyard bullies. And the determination of whose is bigger is yet to be determined.
If you’ve never been to Switzerland, you’ve missed many treats. The geographic landscape coupled with the diversities that naturally emote diverse feelings in those from other countries are evidence of stark differences with the U.S. If you are uncertain about the location of Geneva concerning Switzerland’s other large city — Zurich — it’s easy to explain: Zurich is on the north side of the Swiss Alps, and Geneva is across the massive and spectacular range of mountains. Zurich is a business hub for northern Europe, while Geneva is known as a hotspot of political diversity that represents the political landscape of all of Europe.
I’m certain much of that was lost on Biden and Putin during their stay in Switzerland. They both were surely captured by the World Champion International “Whose is Bigger” battle! And Wednesday, it was on.
There was a time when summit meetings between the presidents of Russia and the U.S. were world-historical events on which the balance of world peace rested. Yesterday — not so much. Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin didn’t even manage to fill the five hours allotted for their talks in Geneva Wednesday in large part because they didn’t have much to talk about. Russia today threatens no U.S. vital interests, commands no alliances or strategic resources, and remains a world power in only two areas, both inherited from the Cold War — its large nuclear arsenal and its U.N. Security Council veto.
Wednesday’s Putin-Biden summit — unlike the explosive Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki three years ago where Trump hinted he believed Putin’s word over that of the U.S.’s own intelligence agencies — was a diplomatic nothing-burger. Putin described the meeting as “quite constructive” and called Biden a “balanced” politician. Biden, speaking at a separate press conference, called the summit “positive.”
There were no breakthroughs — but at least, by Putin’s account, there was “no hostility” between the two sides. The two leaders agreed to keep their ambassadors “in place” (after several months of petulant “withdrawals for consultations,” the diplomatic equivalent of a hissy fit, in the wake of a spring Russian military buildup). The only epic thing about the Geneva summit was a mutual agreement to launch “consultations” on cybersecurity — and that was only an epic of understatement, given Russia’s status as the world’s most aggressive state sponsor of cyber-crime, hacking, and malware attacks — most recently on a U.S. oil pipeline.
There was also no agreement on the only areas where Putin’s cooperation could actually influence real-world conflicts — Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. On the contrary, Putin has recently moved to escalate the conflict in Donbas by deploying Russian forces on the Ukrainian border. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad is Russia’s single international ally — and he owes his survival solely to Putin’s military intervention on his behalf. And on Iran, Russia was once an important U.S. ally while Barack Obama was putting together his grand deal to lift sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s scrapping of its nuclear program. That kind of cooperation has become unthinkable in the wake of Russian interference in the U.S. elections of 2016 and Putin’s harsh crackdown on domestic opposition and murder attempts on enemies abroad.
The only surprise was that the talks were so apparently cordial, despite Biden agreeing in a TV interview earlier this year that he believed Putin was “a killer.” The Russian president insisted the talks were “not hostile,” with both sides showing a “willingness to understand one another.” Biden refused to answer whether he stood by his 2011 comment that Putin had no soul.
In all other ways, both sides stuck to their scripts. Putin, his long-term immunity to irony still very much intact, compared his own crackdown on Russian opposition leaders — notably Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned and then imprisoned, whose name Putin still refuses to pronounce in public — to the U.S. Capitol police’s actions against Capitol rioters last year. The Russian president also cited Guantanamo Bay as a response to criticisms of his human rights record and emphasized the number of people shot every day in American cities. “Who is the killer?” Putin asked.
This kind of tone-deafness to criticism and willingness to keep a straight face while denying well-documented outrages such as the Skripal poisoning or the invasion of Crimea has been the hallmark of Putin’s rule for 20 years. The only thing that has changed is that for the first time, he’s encountered a U.S. president uninterested in any reset, concession, or meaningful “adjustment.”
Over the intervening decades since the 1985 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva, Russia has shrunk from an imperial superpower with a host of international allies. The truth is that Biden neither fears, needs, nor respects Putin. By seeking a summit meeting, Biden successfully defused a potential flare-up of the Ukraine war. But the fact the meeting happened at all is about as good as it’s going to get for Putin. As for the rest, Biden, along with much of the rest of the world, has given up on changing the Kremlin’s behavior — and instead is concentrating on containment. Whether Putin got the message that the West’s patience is at an end will only be clear if and when he stops his escalating campaign of online hostility and domestic repression. Biden, for one, seems to be under no illusions. “I’m not confident [Putin] will change his behavior,” was one of his final comments as he walked away from the podium after a summit that could be the last more or less cordial meeting between the US and Russia for some time.
My takeaway from the summit is quite simple. I feel certain that most Americans hoped that our president would NOT go into this summit and show extreme political weaknesses to the World — especially when sharing the same stage with the seasoned presidential veteran from Russia. To that end, Americans were certainly NOT let down. Honestly, Biden performed far better than most Americans felt he could. With his dramatic cognitive decline over the past year or so, many were actually afraid that Biden would expose Biden. Though a seasoned U.S. career politician, he is incapable of facing international political foes in such a setting.
At least President Biden did NOT embarrass the U.S. And even if you’re one who had great expectations for some type of a Putin knockout, you must admit Biden “took it to” Putin. There was NO knockout. In fact, there was NO knockdown. As to who won the day, it will take some time for the dust to settle and details of the summit to be leaked by political bureaucrats who shared the room with the two “fighters” during the summit before we’ll get a true sense of the effects of the meeting.
Two things are certain: Putin is a formidable opponent, and Biden is inexperienced and was over-matched on that specific point. Putin, after all, has faced off with now eleven U.S. presidents. This was Biden’s first foray into summits with foreign country presidents. Experience cannot be achieved without experiencing such meetings multiple times.
If anything at all, Putin proved that he remains the Russian leader we have seen in various roles for decades. On the other hand, Biden showed us all that his age, physical and mental conditions, and political prowess were certainly overshadowed by Putin’s.
After examining reports from the summit and subsequent press conferences, my thoughts are simple: Vladimir Putin knows how to press all the political buttons at such events. Joe Biden still relies on his political history of making speeches to Americans as a U.S. Senator and Vice President. And as we advance, I’m uncomfortable in that I doubt Biden will be able to catch up with Putin on the important international issues our nation already faces that involve Russia.
We need to pray for President Biden. Why? For two specific reasons: he’s the leader of our nation. And as the leader, it’s foolish for any American to hope for his failure. If that should happen, it will NOT happen in a vacuum: we’ll all go down with the Captain. Secondly, if Joe goes down, his replacement is Vice President Kamala Harris. OMG!
Pray daily…and pray HARD!