Critics Question Wisdom of Biden-Putin Summit Ranking member Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., makes his opening statement during a hearing at the U.S. Capitol on April 27, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis-Pool/Getty Images)
By Brian Freeman | Wednesday, 26 May 2021 12:57 PM
The announcement of a summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in June has made some question the wisdom of such a meeting, CNBC reported on Wednesday.
Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the U.S. should not be rewarding Putin with such a high-level meeting.
"Putin imprisoned Alexei Navalny and his puppet [Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko hijacked a plane to get Roman Protasevich," the Nebraska senator said. "Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we’re giving him his treasured Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimizing his actions with a summit. This is weak."
When White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked by several journalists what kind of message Biden’s meeting with Putin sent to adversaries, she insisted the summit was not a "reward" for Russia.
"This is how diplomacy works," she said. "We don’t only meet with people only when we agree. It’s important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements, as we do with the Russian leader."
But some analysts insist the summit, scheduled to take place on June 16 in Geneva, will be seen as a win for Moscow.
"The Russian state-owned media will spin the Putin-Biden summit in a way that emphasizes Russia’s great power status and its indispensable role in addressing various global challenges," Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe advisor at Teneo Intelligence, told CNBC. "Despite multiple points of contention between Moscow and Washington, the Kremlin will likely reassert its narrative of being a constructive international player on the global stage that often gets unfair treatment from the West."
However, Daragh McDowell, head of Europe and principal Russia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said the summit was advantageous for both sides.
"There is of course a domestic political benefit for Putin in the summit, which will be used to portray Russia as a great power on par with the U.S. However, those same benefits apply to Biden, who will be able to contrast his behaviour with President Trump at the July 2018 summit in Helsinki, to bolster his domestic standing as well as reassuring U.S. allies."
At a press conference following that summit, Trump told reporters that he believed Putin’s denial about interfering in the 2016 election, dismissing the consensus conclusion of the American intelligence community.
Asked whether going ahead with a summit was appropriate and sent the wrong message to American allies, Tursa said that "despite the lingering suspicions, Russia’s involvement in the forced landing of a civilian aircraft in Belarus has not been proven to date" and that it was sensible for the Biden administration to keep lines of communication open with Moscow.
"The U.S. has clearly condemned Belarusian actions and is reportedly preparing sanctions on the Alexander Lukashenko regime. Finally, the Biden administration has been consistent in its approach towards Russia – keeping Moscow accountable for its malign activities without closing the door for political contacts and cooperation in other areas."
McDowell, however, said that "trust and goodwill between Moscow and Washington is in far too short supply for meaningful progress to be made outside areas like nuclear arms limitation."
He added that "While a breakthrough can’t be definitively ruled out, the purpose of the summit appears largely to have a summit so that both sides can later claim they made good faith effort to improve relations."