Much to the surprise of a bewildered body of experts, history may well conclude that while President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin made no headlines, their summit could turn out to be to be one of the key events of the 21st century.
We may find out soon.
As Biden told reporters and the world after the summit ended, “What’s going to happen next is we’re going to be able to look back… try to train yourself, did that work? … Are we closer to major strategic stability? ‘ … This is going to be the test.
This will be Putin’s test – a pass / fail test. And here’s how it happened: Biden and Putin created two joint task forces – one, to end the threat of global cyber attacks that could be the nuclear weapons of the new era; the other to reduce the ever-threatening risk posed by old nuclear arsenals.
Creating task forces might sound like boring bureaucratic news, but it could turn out to be very positive, as it means that American and Russian officials will work together again. (Just as they were shortly after 9/11, when the Russian general in charge of the rockets regaled me in his Kremlin office with stories of how he had just returned from the United States where, in to his amazement, his US counterpart general took him to inspect a top secret US nuclear missile silo!)
Plus, not only is Putin’s test, but he knows the pass / fail one-word answer: “Stop! “
US experts are convinced that Putin had to approve of the two recent ransomware cyber attacks in the United States, in which Russian-based criminals shut down a major pipeline and a major meat producer. Additionally, US intelligence agencies announced long ago that Putin personally endorsed the massive cyber sabotage of the 2016 and 2020 US presidential campaigns.
The key moment of the Geneva summit may well have been the threat which was not a moment of threat. Discussing cyber attacks, Biden turned the situation around Putin: “I spoke about the proposition that certain critical infrastructure should be off limits to attacks – period,” Biden told reporters. “… I gave them a list… 16 specific entities… defined as critical infrastructure under US policy, from the energy sector to our water supply systems.
“When I spoke of the [oil] pipeline that cyber hit for $ 5 million – this ransomware hit the US – I looked at it and said, “Well, how would you feel if ransomware took over your pipelines?” oil fields? He said it would be important. It’s not just our personal interest; it is a mutual interest. (Remember: the late John McCain once called Russia a “gas station masquerading as a country.”)
On Thursday morning, a TV interviewer asked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to summarize Biden’s performance at the top. “I thought it was… a master class in diplomacy,” she said. “You have to put yourself in the shoes of the other person sitting across from you, so you know… what they want.”
Exactly. Now, Putin may find it useful to rethink a grand plan he once had to make Russia a major player in the global economy – and how he nearly got there. Until, in a fit of anger, he messes things up for himself and Russia.
I called it Putin’s two-step Sochi. Russia was economically stressed and isolated from the global economy before 2014, when Putin almost pulled off a brilliant, but risky bet: 1. Putin spent a fortune to make Sochi the site of the February 2014 Winter Olympics, winning worldwide fame; 2. Putin, as the rotating G-8 chairman, also arranged for Sochi to host the group’s economic meeting later in June – and he planned to use Russia’s new respect to attract huge international companies and investors.
But instead, after the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine accepted new trade ties with Europe, rejecting Russia. Putin saw this as a national disgrace. Enraged, he seized the Crimea militarily. Of course, the G-8 canceled their Sochi meeting, kicked Russia out and renamed themselves G-7. Russia’s economy has suffered since, made worse by Putin’s outright militarism and cyberattacks.
At the summit, Biden skillfully maneuvered Putin into a win-win position he could never have captured militarily: a chance that may allow Russia to re-enter the global economy and provide us with the rest of us. a measure of peace.
Now Putin needs to thoroughly rethink what he wants his legacy to be.
Martin Schram, opinion columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington reporter, writer and television documentary maker.
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