U.S.-Russia summit only 1st step toward improved bilateral relations

Improving relations that are said to be at their worst since the end of the Cold War will not be easy. It is important for the two countries to rebuild mutual trust by finding areas, through multiple discussions, in which they can cooperate.

U.S. President Joe Biden held his first summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.

In recent years, Russia has been rocking the United States by interfering with U.S. presidential elections and launching cyber-attacks, while Washington has retaliated with strengthened sanctions on Moscow. The souring of bilateral relations has invited instability in international politics.

Biden and Putin agreed at the summit meeting to pursue a predictable and stable relationship. The face-to-face meeting can be described as having been worthwhile if just for the two leaders to understand each other’s intentions and directly confirm their differences in opinions.

On nuclear disarmament, they agreed to start “an integrated bilateral strategic stability dialogue” to discuss future arms control measures.

The only remaining framework in effect for nuclear disarmament between the United States and Russia is the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which puts limitations on warheads and means of transportation of long-range nuclear weapons.

The treaty was extended by five years in February, but considering the time that will be needed to ratify a new treaty, it is reasonable to start preparations now.

As the two countries possess 90% of the world’s nuclear warheads, they have a responsibility to take the initiative in nuclear disarmament. They should also urge China, which is rapidly expanding its military capabilities, to take part in talks, with the aim of establishing a comprehensive framework that includes short- and medium-range nuclear forces.

Regarding cyber security issues, the most serious area of confrontation between the United States and Russia, the two leaders agreed to set up a consultative body of experts.

Cyber-attacks run the gamut from targeting critical infrastructure, such as pipelines and power grids, to gathering military information and infiltrating corporate systems for ransom. It is difficult to identify perpetrators, and international rules have been slow in the making.

While discussions at the consultative body would be welcome if they helped establish norms, Putin has flatly denied Russia’s involvement in cyber-attacks. Whether talks at the consultative body will be productive remains unclear.

Biden gave Putin a list of 16 specific entities, such as infrastructure, that must not be targeted by cyber-attacks, warning the Russian president that his country will respond accordingly in the event of such an attack. If Russia does not exercise self-restraint, the momentum toward improved relations will likely lose steam.

Regarding issues such as Russia’s crackdown on anti-government activists and military coercion over Ukraine, discussions ended without any progress.

If Putin insists that Russia should be treated as a great power equal to the United States, he should first respect international rules and human rights.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 18, 2021.